In the Greek myth, mired in grief at the death of his beloved wife Eurydice, Orpheus played and sang so mournfully that all the nymphs and deities wept and told him to travel to the Underworld to retrieve her. Orpheus almost succeeded Hades. The myth is an important one in the development of opera; its emphasis on the power of music to transcend this world and the greatest of human difficulties made it an excellent subject for Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, commonly known as the first opera, composed in the early 17th Century. Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice follows in the mid-18th Century and offers a twist on the standard version of the myth: Orpheus’ tragic failure to retain Eurydice is transformed into a euphoric epiphany as she is returned after all thanks to a deus ex machina effect!
This production of Gluck’s opera, in the year marking the 300th since the composer’s birthday, took place in the Rose Theatre. The theatre, tucked away behind the Globe is a very intimate underground space with archaeological remains of the original theatre dating back to 1587 as a backdrop to the stage. It is an appropriately haunting setting for Orpheus’ descent into the underworld and one that this production exploits to great effect. As Orpheus descends, the site is lit up, and the characters serenade us from the far side of the original theatre, across a pool of rain water.
The opera was minimally staged and orchestrated, which gave the audience an intimacy with the performers that larger houses can rarely offer. Tenor Robin Green played Orpheus. He was unfortunately suffering from a cold on review night, and although his voice suffered for this, the breadth of his operatic experience shone through with his tender and warm performance. Young soprano Mimi Doulton played Eurydice; she offered a fluid, precise and emotionally rich performance. Darja Scukina’s performance of Amor offered a bright and uplifting contrast to the laments of the tragic couple. These were well supported by an energetic chorus and lively playing from Julian Fish on violin, Hannah Grayson on flute, Anne Denholm on harp, with Andrew Charity, Musical Director, on piano.
The production could have been slicker in places and was extremely minimal in terms of costume and props. Yet the show also showcases some brilliant and accomplished musical talent and offers an intimate and warm interpretation of Gluck’s opera.