Opera Scotland

Orfeo ed Euridice 2015Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Orpheus and Euridice

Orfeo ed Euridice is an opera that has regularly attracted directors from the dance world, whether in charge of the whole show or merely the substantial dance numbers. That combination of disparate elements makes the work very difficult to bring off, and few of the productions staged in Britain in recent decades have been particularly successful - certainly revivals have been rare. It is therefore highly encouraging to find that Scottish Opera's fourth assault on the piece has been in most respects a success, to the point where we may look forward to seeing it again in years to come.

The joint effort of Scottish Ballet's former Artistic Director Ashley Page as director and choreographer and the late Johan Engels as designer works well, and the success of Mark Jonathan's varied lighting schemes adds much to the atmosphere. The stage is dominated by a huge cubic structure, with one open face, allowing for clear projection of voices. The other three translucent walls as well as the floor bear an intriguingly intricate decorative scheme. The mood can be changed by simple means of projections, and the cube rotates smoothly, even when carrying the weight of the full chorus and the eight dancers. It also leaves space around it for easy movement of these forces.

The action is framed within ideas inspired by the classic 1950 Jean Cocteau film Orphée, with costumes dominated by the 'new look' of that far-off period. This is equally suited to the scenes of mourning that start the work and the celebratory cocktail party that brings it to a close. The role of Amor seems more important that usual, given a dominant appearance - no mincing Cupid this, but a thoroughly sophisticated damsel in a striking flared strawberry coloured skirt and black bodice. The loving couple themselves are in sober white throughout, as are the blessed spirits (though the appearance of the latter does seem inappropriately comical). At the arrival of Orpheus in Hades, he is met by lost souls in standard contemporary costume, and the Furies - eight dancers - in androgynous red costumes (not quite Spiderman, but almost).

The visual results are impressive, and the musical dimension came through effectively too, at the performance on 25 February. Early in his career, Kenneth Montgomery was on the music staff of Sadler's Wells Opera, and conducted in London and on tour, when he visited Scotland. It is nearly thirty years since his only previous appearance with Scottish Opera. He has since had a fine career, both in his native Northern Ireland, and in the States. He has not previously been heard here conducting baroque repertoire, but here it seems entirely natural, with generally brisk tempi in historically-informed style. The choral singing is consistently beautiful, and carefully attuned to dramatic situation.

The music follows Gluck’s first Vienna version, but also incorporates the Dance of the Furies and the Dance of the Blessed Spirits from his later, Paris version. The conflation of three very short acts into two, with one interval, seems quite justifiable, with the Dance of the Blessed Spirits opening the second part. This is the major opportunity for the dancers, with a varied series of pas de deux providing an absorbing interlude before the arrival of Orpheus. Earlier they had added suave and sophisticated interest to the opening, before switching to a complete change of mood as the Furies. Their lounge-lizard personas returned for the finale.

Of the singers, Caitlin Hulcup is now a familiar and welcome figure, but even so her Orpheus was a delightful impersonation, smoothly sung throughout its range, with beautiful contralto tones when required.   She was also entirely convincing in her young man's garb. Lucy Hall, making her local debut, gave a limpid account of Euridice's music. The character can sometimes seem a bit of a bore, or a nag, but there was no danger of that here. Anyone who saw the fascinating presentation by Les Arts Florissants of Charpentier's version of the David and Jonathan story at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival will have been delighted to see Ana Quintans back, in a very different role. This Amor, or rather Amore, could hardly have been more feminine, and she sounded as good as she looked, giving unusual prominence to a usually ephemeral character.

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Performance DatesOrfeo ed Euridice 2015

Map List

Theatre Royal, Glasgow | Glasgow

19 Feb, 19.15 22 Feb, 14.00 25 Feb, 19.15 28 Feb, 19.15

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

3 Mar, 19.15 5 Mar, 19.15 7 Mar, 19.15

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