Opera: Orpheus and Eurydice
Sarah Garland is impressed by this production of Gluck's opera
by Sarah Garland
Saturday 28th April 2012, 11:36 BST
An opera staged in a chapel, translated from Gluck's original Italian into contemporary English and set, so the programme said, 'in a place not unlike Cambridge' - even before the raise of the conductor's baton, Orpheus and Eurydice was intriguing. On entering Clare Chapel nothing but the orchestra at the back of the chapel it seemed reasonable to anticipate a spare, minimalist staging, colourless and stark to reflect the modernity we in the audience had been promised.
I couldn't have been more wrong. From the moment the overture began, the whole production sparkled; the stage, such as it was, filled with energy and colour as Love, resplendent in a red dress, conducted the marriage of the ill-fated couple. The joy and care that all involved had taken over the performance was readily apparent. Indeed, the decision to include a wedding scene at all (acted in silence and performed to the overture, despite it not being a scene included in the libretto) was an excellent one on the part of director Sophie Rashbrook. Seeing Eurydice as a person rather than an idea, and seeing the happiness she and Orpheus took in one another, rendered the raw grief of subsequent scenes all the more poignant.
While the lighting didn't seem to accomplish very much beyond transforming the chapel into a warmer, more intimate performance space - far more atmosphere was created by the darkening sky outside, particularly as Orpheus confronted the Furies - the chorus more than made up for it. There seemed to be a real rapport between them all, whether they were costumed as spirits or Furies or grieving friends; their singing was impeccable and their flawless physical theatre was more effective than any cumbersome scenery. They should probably be commended, too, for their lightning-fast costume changes between almost every scene (and, indeed, for some marvellously creative uses of their gowns).
Of the three leading roles, Oliver El-Holiby's Orpheus had by far the most to do, and he carried the production admirably; his grief and slowly-mounting despair were all but palpable, and wrenching to watch. I spent the first minutes of the second half on tenterhooks waiting to see Judith Lebiez properly assume the role of Eurydice, and she didn't by any means disappoint -- it was impossible not to feel for her as she struggled to comprehend her situation. All of the principal roles showed enviable technical skill and vocal control; there were no weak links whatsoever, and their voices were all strong enough to perfectly balance out the orchestra. The performance that really caught my eye, though, was Werner's Love, lively and capricious and teasing -- the perfect foil to the grieving hero.
In short, then, Orpheus and Eurydice is a gem. It’s a compelling production, well-acted, well-directed, well-played and well-sung. CCMS do real justice to the score and to the translated libretto; I couldn't have hoped for a better way to spend an evening.