Opera North (Orfeo ed Eurydice)
Theatre Royal, Nottingham (also at The Lowry, Salford on Nov 18)
November 9 2022
Review: William Ruff
Opera North’s Orfeo ed Euridice may be semi-staged but there’s no skimping on emotional power
If the people of Nottingham felt the earth move on Wednesday evening, they should know who to blame: Opera North. Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice hit the operatic world like an earthquake when it was first produced in 1762 and it’s been creating shockwaves ever since. Gluck and his team wanted to achieve nothing short of an operatic revolution in which convoluted plots were jettisoned in favour of a story so intense and so streamlined that it plugged straight into the audience’s emotional core. And they achieved it. Orfeo is still going strong and has never been out of the repertoire in 260 years. Opera North demonstrates that its power is still very much alive.
The story of Orpheus descending to the underworld to bring his beloved Euridice back to life has had the operatic treatment more often than any other. Famously there’s a condition attached to his rescue: he mustn’t look at Euridice until they are safely back on the earth. If he does, then he loses her for ever. Of course, this is easier said than done. Euridice is so grief-stricken that her husband refuses to look at her that she says she prefers permanent death to a reprieve with him. When he can’t stand the pain any longer and looks round, Euridice starts to fade from sight.
So does it all end in tears? In many versions yes (there’s one in which Orpheus is torn limb from limb) but not in Gluck’s. Luckily love (in the physical form of the character Amor) comes to the rescue and rewards the couple by giving Orpheo a second chance, letting them live happily ever after.
It is a mark of the power of Opera North’s production that there was an audible gasp from the audience when Orfeo turns round to behold his wife. This is story-telling stripped to its essentials, the concentrated emotion even more potent. It helps, of course, to have in the central role of Orpheo one of the world’s great mezzos, Alice Coote. It’s hard to think of another opera which is so dominated by one character, so stamina is required as well as a voice of great beauty. Her voice has a thrilling range, the lustre of her high notes matched by richness and depth at the lower end. Her singing of the opera’s best-known aria ‘Che faro senza Euridice’ isn’t only beautifully sung but also totally integrated into the drama, deeply moving because it’s so emotionally and psychologically true.
Fflur Wyn as Euridice is in fine voice, traversing a wide spectrum of feeling in such a short time: joy at being reunited with her husband, followed by grief, death for a second time and then renewed joy again at the happy ending. Daisy Brown gives a delightfully bright-toned performance as Amor, the god of love who drives the action forward.
There is so much that is dramatic in this production that it’s easy to forget that it isn’t fully staged. It is, in fact, billed as a ‘concert performance’, although it’s much more than that. It’s true that there are no sets or costumes but there’s plenty of expressive movement and interaction with everything being sung from memory. The impressive Chorus sings with their usual intelligence and talent for vivid story-telling. The only disappointment is that this semi-staged approach means that Gluck’s delightful sequence of dances at the opera’s conclusion is cut.
The orchestra’s playing is full of vitality with transparent textures and neat, stylish phrasing. The whole ensemble was directed with insight and vigour by Antony Hermus.
THE CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA OF OPERA NORTH