Orfeo ed Euridice, Buxton Opera Festival, July 2014Posted on 14 July 2014
For Gluck’s tercentenary Buxton has produced his Orfeo ed Euridice (the 1762 Italian version) to counterbalance Dvořak’s delightful Jacobin. It is a good match: Dvořak was a Czech composer, but so in a sense was Gluck, who was brought up in Bohemia and studied mathematics and logic at the University of Prague.
This opera was a turning point in his reforms to what had become a somewhat fossilised operatic form. In it he creates a more flowing and dramatic style, helped by Calzabigi’s libretto that uses a chorus and just three characters: Orfeo, the musician whose singing can charm all living beings and even stones, Euridice his wife and muse, whom he attempts to rescue from Hades after her death, and Amore the goddess of love. The brevity and focus here is a far cry from earlier operas on the legend of Orpheus, such as L’Orfeo by Monteverdi that uses some dozen characters.
Such legends may no longer be in vogue, but the music and clarity of plot helps it retain a place in the repertoire for modern audiences, and Stephen Medcalf’s production portrays it entirely in modern terms. Orfeo is a pop idol, seen during the overture in a white suit surrounded by adoring fans. His pretty wife in her white crochet dress overdoses and dies, and we move into the opera proper.
Large solid letters O R F E O both upright and lying at various angles form the main set, later joined by A and M. Towards the end they spell out the hero’s name before the chorus moves them around to spell AMORE. It’s a clever device, with Amore herself an ever-visible presence, watching from behind the giant letters. She was sung with striking beauty and lovely purity of tone by Daisy Brown, along with Barbara Bargnesi as an attractively sung Euridice, so eloquent in her frustration when Orfeo refuses to look at her on their return journey from Hades. When they finally gaze at one another and she dies in his arms, counter-tenor Michael Chance showed a lyrical moment full of emotion.
A lovely rendering of Gluck’s music under the baton of Stuart Stratford, with fine support from the young chorus. These modern Orfeo fans don ragged cloaks to become furies barring the way to Hades before appearing in beach clothing where unearthly clouds scud across a blue sky in the Elysium scene. At the end they reappear to dance in couples, recreating the pop music ambience of the overture and suggesting an Orfeo on the contemporary theme of recovery from drug abuse.
Performances continue on various dates until July 25 — for details click here.