First recorded in April 2021 for BBC Radio 3 when Covid restrictions prevented live performance, Opera North present a concert performance of one of Gluck’s key works in his reinvention, in conjunction with librettist Calzabigi, of opera for his own time, as part of their wider celebration of the Orpheus myth which makes up their autumn season.
Orfeo’s (Alice Coote) wife Euridice (Fflur Wynn) is dead, and a chorus of nymphs and shepherds mourn her. Orfeo is inconsolable but Amore (Daisy Brown) appears to tell him that Jupiter has taken pity on him and will grant him safe passage to the underworld where he can return Euridice to the land of the living. There is one condition however: he must not look at Euridice until they have reached the light of day. If he does, he will lose her again, forever.
Orfeo accepts the condition and journeys to the underworld where he charms a chorus of furies to take pity on him and allow him to pass before a chorus of spirits bring Euridice to him. As he leads her back, she becomes increasingly distressed at his refusal to answer her questions or even look at her and begins to wonder whether he no longer loves her, and she would be best remaining with the dead. Can Orfeo battle through her sorrows, or will he be overcome by grief? Is there any guarantee that love can be triumphant after all?
I’m a firm believer in less is more as far as most productions go, but here we erred perhaps a little too far with that premise and at times it felt a little too bare and occasionally flat as the only staging, or rather concert placing (Sophie Gilpin) as the programme notes, was a raised dais leftover from the previous nights’ La Traviata with nymphs and shepherds, furies and spirits, represented by the Chorus of Opera North all dressed in black with limited movement throughout. I’m not suggesting we needed momentous staging, but it could have been an idea to have borrowed some of the timely video and lighting design from La Traviata as well, and the inclusion of at least some of the sequence of dances wouldn’t have gone amiss either.
The lack of on-stage drama was more than made up for by the orchestra, conducted by Principal Guest Conductor Antony Hermus, who caught the mood and moment of every stage of the journey, drawing heartfelt emotion from the depths of despair to the livelier moments of hope performed in true baroque style and pace.
It’s not all flat on stage either as our three principals shine brightly. Coote is one of the world’s great mezzos and given the presence of Orfeo throughout proceedings, she has the necessary stamina and range, from the lustre of her high notes through to the richness and depth of her lower tones, to thrive, delivering a beautiful but agonised ‘Che faro?’ and injecting some real energy onto the stage.
Brown provides a bright and charming Amore although is occasionally overcome by the accompanying zeal of the orchestra. Wyn is in fine voice and shone brightly in the darkness of her underworld confrontation with Orfeo – the only moment of conflict within the opera – but was also occasionally overcome by the playing, which is a shame as I would happily listen to more from both of them.
All in all, an enjoyable evening but as one celebrated performer once put it: a little less conversation, a little more action, please.
Orfeo ed Euridice is one of Opera North’s current touring productions, further details https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 18th November 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★