Opera Scotland

Orphée et Euridice 1994English Bach Festival

Read more about the opera Orpheus and Euridice

In the early years after its restoration, the management of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre adopted the wonderful practice of importing productions for one-off events outside the normal Festival season. Inevitably the economics of this rarely worked out, and such events no longer occur, to everyone's loss. This two night visit by the English Bach Festival company was an excellent opportunity for Scottish audiences to become acquainted with unusual items performed in period style. Gluck's most popular work was delivered in its far less frequently heard Paris revision, with Orpheus rewritten for high tenor. While Dido and Aeneas was hardly a rarity, the concept here, of including a prologue, also made it a worthwhile exercise.

The English Bach Festival Trust was founded in 1962 under the direction of harpsichordist Lina Lalandi, initially to perform the works of Bach in authentic style. The succession of Honorary Presidents recruited included Albert Schweitzer, Igor Stravinsky and Leonard Bernstein. It quickly widened the repertoire to other baroque masters including Purcell and Handel. Perhaps the greatest contribution, through the seventies, came with the exploration of the far less known French Baroque, and the numerous British premieres of works by Rameau came as a particular revelation. The stagings eventually toured to many of the major European houses. Performances were often given on Sunday evenings at the Royal Opera House, with reconstructions of period sets and costumes, and an attempt at authentic choreography. The musical standards were high, with many great singers and conductors taking on works they would have little chance to do again.

Before coming to Edinburgh, these two productions, Orphée et Euridice and Dido and Aeneas, had already been seen at Covent Garden, Versailles, Athens (the Herodes Atticus amphitheatre), Monte Carlo, Granada, Paris, Madrid and Rome. With a chorus of fourteen and dance troupe of eight there were enough performers to keep the action as dramatic as necessary.

The sets were generally in authentic period style, so could be adapted for use in a number of operas. The same went for the elaborate costumes. The real interest came in the dance sequences, very different from later ballet, and of course the singing and orchestral playing. Jean-Claude Malgoire was a recognised expert at interpreting the works of Lully and Rameau, so could connect Gluck into that French tradition. While the two sopranos were familiar from their performances with major British opera companies, including Scottish Opera, the specialist high tenor was a newcomer.

Performance DatesOrphée et Euridice 1994

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Festival Theatre, Edinburgh | Edinburgh

21 Jul, 19.30

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