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Orfeo ed Euridice review at Longborough Festival Opera – ‘music conquers all’

Hanna Liisa Kirchin in Orfeo ed Euridice at Longborough Festival Opera. Photo: Matthew Williams Ellis
Hanna Liisa Kirchin in Orfeo ed Euridice at Longborough Festival Opera. Photo: Matthew Williams Ellis
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Gluck’s 1762 Orfeo ed Euridice offers a fascinating journey into the psychology of time – not least in that its composer looked back to Greek theatre in a bid to reform the operatic culture of his day.

His so-called ‘beautiful simplicity’ emphasised dramatic effect over vocal display and proved hugely influential to future innovators such as Mozart and Wagner.

To stage the opera today in a determinedly archaic, neoclassical style, as director Maria Jagusz does in her new Young Artists production for Longborough Festival Opera, arguably says as much about current-day obsessions with perceived tradition as it does about Gluck.

At any rate, the concepts here do not entirely convince in execution. Richard Studer’s circle-within-a square portal design proves a serviceable blank slate for the committed young cast. But the director, and choreographer Mark Smith, do them no favours with Bollywood-inspired gestures and a lyre strings/heartstrings ribbon motif which lend awkward rigidity rather than dramatic flow to the intended ritualism.

The 12-strong chorus nonetheless sing with spirit and, supported by an excellent baroque band, exuding energy and focus under conductor Jeremy Silver, mezzo Hanna-Liisa Kirchin creates a poignant Orpheus within the formalised frame. Vocally and dramatically the highlight of the evening is her duet with soprano Nazan Fikret’s insightfully portrayed, angrily perplexed Euridice; at which point – perhaps ironically – the drama is pared down to emotional essentials more instinctively conveyed.

Soprano He Wu makes what she can of the somewhat hapless Amore, intercessor between wilful humans and capricious gods.

Ultimately – in Jagusz's production as in Gluck’s version of the myth – music conquers all to provide a happy, if not wholly satisfying, ending.

 

Verdict
Spirited singing carries this retelling of the Orpheus myth
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