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The Mask of Orpheus

“A superficial staging”

Premiered at English National Opera back in 1986, The Mask of Orpheus belatedly returns in a staging by Daniel Kramer – the company’s former artistic director who departed in July 2019.

Harrison Birtwistle’s opera is long and musically complex, a discursive exploration of the myth that has fascinated the composer for decades. It circles around elements of the Orpheus story in repetitious, ritualistic form: don’t expect a traditional narrative from Peter Zinovieff’s obscure libretto.

The main characters – Orpheus, Eurydice and Aristaeus – each have three exponents: two of them singers, the third an aerialist. The setting is contemporary, with Peter Hoare (Orpheus – The Man) virtually omnipresent and tireless in a realisation that presents him as a retired rock star.

English National Opera’s The Mask of Orpheus at London Coliseum. Photo: Alistair Muir

Dressed in costumes by fashion designer Daniel Lismore – his first for the stage – it’s not easy to work out who many of the other participants are meant to be. The glitzy, camp, frequently enormous frocks – studded, apparently, with 400,000 Swarovski crystals – overwhelm the rest of the show without justifying their place within it.

ENO’s musical resources are well up to the piece’s inordinate demands. Music director Martyn Brabbins and chorus master James Henshaw are the two conductors the score requires. Both chorus and orchestra have mastered the complex idiom. The electronic elements, realised by the composer with Barry Anderson, add further layers of sonic fascination.

Yet if the score and its realisation impress, the production represents yet another ENO staging that lets the piece down from a visual point of view.

Orpheus in the Underworld review at London Coliseum – ‘Emma Rice’s misjudged production’

Related to this Review

Orpheus and EurydiceOrpheus and Eurydice

Production Details
Production nameThe Mask of Orpheus
VenueLondon Coliseum
StartsOctober 18, 2019
EndsNovember 13, 2019
Running time3hrs 45mins
ComposerHarrison Birtwistle
DirectorDaniel Kramer
ConductorJames Henshaw, Martyn Brabbins
ChoreographerBarnaby Booth
Set designerLizzie Clachan
Costume designerDaniel Lismore
Lighting designerPeter Mumford
Sound designerIan Dearden
Video designerPeter Mumford
CastSimon Bailey, Daniel Norman, Alfa Marks, Claire Barnett-Jones, Claron Mcfadden, James Cleverton, Leo Hedman, Marta Fontanals-Simmons, Matthew Smith, Peter Hoare
Production managerJustin Loader, Tom Lee
ProducerEnglish National
VerdictMusically impressive but superficial staging of Birtwistle’s opera
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George Hall

George Hall

George Hall

George Hall

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