Opera Scotland

Orfeo 2017Edinburgh International Festival

Read more about the opera Orfeo

Anniversaries celebrated with the greatest of early operas

2017 being the 70th year of the Edinburgh International Festival, the opera programme was a celebratory one with a distinctly expanded line-up of nine works. The 450th anniversary of Monteverdi's birth was celebrated with a trilogy of concerts in which John Eliot Gardiner conducted L'OrfeoIl ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria and L'incoronazione di Poppea, seen together in Edinburgh for the first time since 1978.

There were three further events, not part of the opera programme, but which should be highlighted. No Festival visit is complete without enjoying a morning concert at the Queen's Hall. Here there was a prelude to the Monteverdi event in the form of Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in a recently discovered transcription by Heinrich Schütz. The gloriously dramatic Damnation of Faust by Berlioz was performed by Mark Elder and the Hallé, while the Festival continued its exploration of rare Elgar with a revival of the cantata King Olaf.

Usher Hall triumph

The Monteverdi cycle performances are acted out in simple modern dress without scenery. The first of these, Orfeo, was a complete success, with a sense of total concentration from an audience gripped from the opening fanfare of cornetti and sackbutts, delivered in near darkness from the back of the organ gallery. The orchestra, perhaps larger than expected, was divided into two sections with a wide passage between them, and the substantial group of singers was able to stretch out behind, and move around the playing area with ease. The various entrances and exits were also managed discreetly, and in complete silence, from the stage doors - only the vitally important Messenger entering with her shattering narrative from further out in the auditorium.

The title role dominates the piece from his first entrance, and it must have been a potential nightmare for management to discover that the eloquent Polish tenor Krystian Adam was feeling off-colour due to a throat infection. However no significant problems were noticeable. Even his huge plea to Charon, 'Possente spirito', was carried off in a majestic fashion, with perhaps just a couple of extra breaths tactfully inserted. He is a great singing actor. One unexpected feature of the casting was to see Furio Zanasi, who sang the title role last time the work was given at the Festival a decade ago, now appearing as Orfeo's father, the god Apollo.

The other performers all showed the great benefit from the extensive tour the team has been through this summer - everything ran like a well-oiled machine. Another gain is that the same singers will have the chance to take very different roles in the other two operas - a mouth-watering prospect.

Performance DatesOrfeo 2017

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Usher Hall | Edinburgh

14 Aug, 19.00

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