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Seen and Heard Opera Review

GLUCK, Orpheo et Eurydice, Soloists, Opera North and Emio Greco/PC, Lowry Theatre, Salford Quays, October 23rd 2004 (RJF)

First seen at the Edinburgh Festival, Opera North’s Orpheo ed Euridice reached the Lowry Theatre as part of the company’s autumn tour which also featured two performances each of Puccini’s Manon and Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte. When I write Opera North’s Orpheo I may be starting with a significant error. This idiosyncratic presentation of the opera arose out of the regular collaboration between the Dutch based Emio Greco/PC (for Pieter C Scholten) internationally renowned modern dance company and the Edinburgh Festival. EG/PC wished to create and present the opera in their vision. For this they needed a collaborator. At the pre-performance talk it was said that five U.K. opera companies had been considered and Opera North chosen. Certainly Opera North has a reputation for unusual productions as illustrated by their Eight Little Greats Series of summer 2004. But then the same could be said of the other U.K. regional companies if Scottish Opera’s Aida or Welsh National Opera’s Die Fledermaus are anything to go by. I do remember an evening at Opera North when a modern dance version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker was presented alongside the composer’s one act opera Yolanta. On that occasion the two were distinctly separate entities. Here the aim was total integration of the opera and the dance to give a cohesive whole.



Perhaps the fact that the direction, stage design and choreography were by EG/PC weighed the priorities. The stage was a bare three-sided shoebox with plain sides. Bleak lighting and projected patterned images onto the walls were used liberally; occasionally to good effect. There were no sets. The music was the straight original version as performed at the premier in 1762 when Gluck sought to break away from the static conventions of tableau and aria with well integrated chorus and dance forms as an integral complement to the singers in solo or duet. In the first part of the work, which was given without break, the chorus were dressed in something akin to floor length white tents topped by stiff collars. Black wigs and gloves completed the deliberately androgynous outfits. It was only possible to determine the male from the female by the more naturally rounded, rather than padded, chests of the latter. The chorus moved about the stage very slowly and often with arm movements. They acted as the gates of Hades among other representations. Emio Greco and his seven dancers moved in and around the chorus and soloists, he as a shadowy twin of Amore sometimes mouthing her words as she sang. The dancing was full of twitches, writhings and gyrations that did little to illuminate my understanding of the evolving drama. Maybe some of these ill co-ordinated violent twitchings and energetic contortions were meant to illustrate Orfeo’s mental agony and torment.

The conductor wished to represent the 1762 version as originally performed. He asked the chorus to whiten their tone. The result was a lack of the vibrancy regularly heard from this chorus. This was a significant loss when Orfeo sought to enter Hades against the furies. Likewise the singing of the soloists was largely without vibrato. Surely the castrato Gaetano Guadagni, who created the role of Orpheo, and who started as a contralto before raising his voice to soprano would have invested more colour into his singing. As it was the Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor was thin of tone and whilst being strong at the top of his voice the lower was largely absent. In consequence the great aria of the opera ‘Che faro’ went for nothing. The Spanish lyric soprano Isabel Monar as Euridice looked lovely. Her singing was accurate and well characterised. I do wonder, however, why Opera North persist in importing singers for parts such as this when we have an indigenous stock of under employed singers who could do just a well. As Amore native born, and Manchester trained, Claire Ormshaw provided some of the strongest singing of the evening, even when standing on one leg and gesticulating her hands in parallel with Emio Greco’s. Movements that also seemed wholly superfluous.



The orchestra under Nicholas Kok were well articulated. At the pre-performance talk we were told that there were also some period instruments in the pit although the orchestra were using their usual instruments tuned to normal concert pitch.

The last time Orpheo ed Euridice played in Manchester, the audience could clearly differentiate the entrance to Hades from the Elysian Fields where the ladies were draped in Grecian style dresses with the odd naked breast on view. Certainly the effect was more comprehensible and aesthetically pleasing than what was presented at this performance. When an opera lover goes to see Orpheo ed Euridice they would normally expect to see the dance sequences integrated into the production. What was presented here was modern dance with the backing of an opera company and solo principals. It was a good job that clear surtitles were available so the audience could follow what was happening on stage. The programme shows photographs by Pasqual Martini. Emio Greco and Pieter C Scholten felt these images resonated with their own work and added ‘a new dimension to the key notations that are at the root of their development of the Orfeo material’. Some of these photographs involve images of dead and dying animals and people. It perhaps says it all. Perhaps Opera North were not so much chosen but chose the short straw.

Robert J Farr

Photos: Orfeo ed Eurydice, Opera North
© Bill Cooper

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