The spring offering from the opera school at the Conservatoire generally uses the Alexander Gibson Opera Studio to produce small-scale pieces. On this occasion, early twentieth-century chamber works are paired under the title of Two Great French Romantic Tragedies. These are both very rarely performed, and never before seen in Scotland. The evening opens with Darius Milhaud's brief take on the Orpheus legend, Les malheurs d'Orphée. This is followed by the Swiss composer Frank Martin's alternative vision of the Tristan myth, Le vin herbé.
Milhaud's Orphée is quite a surprising work. It is very short - three acts pass in little more than a half-hour - so much needs to be sketched in quickly. There is little indication of the familiar musician figure. He is a healer and something of a recluse, apparently happier with animals than people. Eurydice is a gypsy girl he meets and falls for. They set up home together, but she soon falls ill and dies, wherupon Orpheus returns to his village. He is eventually found by Eurydice's three sisters, who, in the role of avenging Furies, kill him.
The orchestration is very successful, with unusual sounds produced from the combinations - wind quintet and string quartet with slightly unusual line-ups, plus harp, trumpet, timpani and percussion. The sonorities are strange and charming. The undoubted highlight was an amazing funeral march for Euridice, which really should be better known. Timothy Dean produced a beautiful balanced effect.
The Kally Lloyd-Jones staging was extremely straightforward, in naive style, with a cut-out cottage for Orpheus the Woodsman, and animal costumes that would be fine in a panto or Magic Flute staging.
The cast was rightly dominated by baritone Alexey Gusev in the title role. He is a fine actor and his voice is warm and smoothly-produced while still having something of that typical Russian darkness. Anne-Marie Loveday sang with a fine sweetness of tone, though her French diction could have been a bit clearer. The trio of tradesmen - tenor, baritone, bass - were particularly good, but there was a definite sense of enjoyment projected by all the singers.
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