Orfeo Ed Euridice - No More Workhorse Review
Irish National Opera’s Orfeo ed Euridice illustrates perfectly that you don’t need a large scale Met production to create a moving and totally engaging performance that keeps its audience on the edge of their seats. The bated-breath attention throughout and the rapturous applause at the end of the opening night’s performance said it all. With three principal singers, a chorus of four and four dancers they have created a provocative and imaginative interpretation of this well known work that deserves to be widely seen.
The overture ends with the crashing footsteps of Death which resound throughout the theatre, summoning Euridice through a gauzy curtain into the realm beyond. As the curtain lifts we see what could be a scene in any traditional funeral home. A distraught Orfeo sits in a chair in front of a coffin, surrounded by mourners who try to console him. The expression of their grief, shown by the gradual unfurling of their slowed-down gestures – surely inspired by Bill Viola’s emotive video also called “The Mourners” – allows us to see the depth of their feeling of loss. However, while they move on in time to other preoccupations, Orfeo remains trapped in his despair.
The intensity of his love inspires Amor, the God of Love, to offer him the chance to bring back his lost Euridice from the dead. He must go into the underworld and lead her back without ever looking at her, or explaining why he cannot. Delighted, Orfeo heads off on his quest and finds his dead bride but unable to resist Euridice’s plea for a single glance, he turns to look at her and loses her a second time. The traditional happy ending is omitted in this production and although a coda is sung by the chorus about love conquering all, we are led to believe that is not going to be the case for Orfeo and Euridice.
The simple staging of set designer, Sabine Dargent, is enhanced throughout by the effective lighting of Stephen Dodd. In the scene when Orfeo first meets his dead wife, swathed in a length of cloth, the twists and turns of the fabric, almost a living thing itself, is visually stunning. But what makes this production extraordinary is the combination of the superlative singing, the incredible choreography and the clear and unsentimental direction.
Orfeo is the linchpin of this opera, never off stage, and it is only if we can believe his grief and empathise with his situation, that the opera makes any sense. Here, Sharon Carty in the role is superb, both in her singing and acting, and her vocal decorations in “Che puro ciel” and “Che farò senz’Euridice” add a freshness and new dimension to both aria. Sarah Power as Euridice is moving in her confusion and despair as Orfeo refuses to look at her and chorus member, Emma Nash, who doubles with a brief appearance as Amor sings the role well.
Equally important as the singing, however, is the impressive and original direction of Emma Martin. The production is pared back to the essentials and the subtle, effective choreography is always used to progress the story, never simply as a decoration. The four dancers, often assisted by the chorus, are mesmerising, drifting easily from the frenetic movements of the damned to the graceful dance of the blessed spirits. The Irish Baroque Orchestra under the baton of Peter Whelan is excellent throughout. The production is travelling to several venues around Ireland. If you’ve any interest in opera or theatre, don’t miss it!
Originally appeared in No More Workshorse, 10th February, 2019, https://nomoreworkhorse.com/20...