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Orfeo ed Euridice

Gluck and Calzabigi

Opera North

The Lowry, Salford

November 18, 2022; 1hr 50min


Alice Coote as Orfeo in Opera North's Orfeo ed Euridice. All pics: Justin Slee

When is a concert performance of an opera not a concert performance? The line is hard to draw with a company as resourceful as Opera North.

The most famous version of the Orpheus and Eurydice story has hardly ever been out of the world’s stages since 1762, and is the one Offenbach could (much later) easily send up in Orpheus in the Underworld.

With a top-class cast and their remarkable chorus, the company has put on what for many others would have been a respectable theatre presentation. There’s a simple set, an illuminated backcloth, sound effects, well-used stage lighting, and the performers are strikingly and suitably dressed.

But here’s a thing: there’s no credit for any director or designer in the programme, which insists it’s a “concert version”, but just to Sophie Gilpin for “concert placing”. If you saw La Traviata earlier in the week, you’d recognize the built-up stage, the central platform used to bring a visual focal point to the action, and the starry-night backcloth, so those were handy and have been borrowed.

The chorus moves with smooth and effective gestures (they’re used to cover points in the music where the singing stops), and the three protagonists know how to use the space available – they’re acting, not just vocalising.

We can’t show any of this pictorially, however, because the only photography Opera North has made available is of a kind of public Sitzprobe (OK, Standprobe) put on in Huddersfield Town Hall before the theatre run in Leeds. That, apparently, really was a concert version.

There is, admittedly, an emphasis on the score as the big thing. Antony Hermus conducts the Orchestra of Opera North with emphasis and style, every detail of Gluck’s orchestration vividly audible, and the singing is splendid.

It’s a story in which just a few events are shown: Orfeo mourns his dead wife Euridice, Amore (Love) tells him he can enter the Underworld and bring her back, he braves and tames the Furies and arrives at Elysium, then makes the fatal mistake of looking back to embrace her on the way out, meaning she dies all over again. This version has a happy ending, though: Amore pops up and says she can be restored to life after all because of his true love.

The three principals are first-rate: Daisy Brown, charming and clear as Amore; Fflur Wyn in excellent voice and genuinely portraying Euridice (she earned her own applause for her passionate Che fiero momento).

Alice Coote, as the star name, gives Orfeo in full-throttle, histrionic style. I’ve been a fan since seeing her as Cherubino in a long-past Opera North production of The Marriage of Figaro, and you can’t fault her here for effort and stamina: she used a lot of chest voice to get the lower-register music over against the orchestra’s richness (the part was written for a castrato originally), but maybe a little unremittingly.