Orfeo ed Euridice – Gluck. *** Zanetto – Mascagni. **** Grimeborn Festival 2021 Arcola Outside, Dalston, London. Clare Colvin.

Barefoot Opera has a talent for finding young singers at the start of their careers. It also, as its name implies, aims to explore experimental productions that are sparely staged. In Orfeo ed Euridice, the first of a double bill based on a linked theme of lost love, the props are scattered cardboard boxes, graffitied with the name Euridice. The sounds of Hell’s wraiths are provided through a megaphone by assistant director Katie Blackwell, who also filled in on the first night for an indisposed Amore.
The Greek myth that inspired Gluck’s most popular opera is pretty straight-forward. Orfeo the poet and musician mourns his dead wife. His laments persuade the Gods to allow him to visit the underworld and lead her back to life, on condition that he doesn’t look back at her. Euridice, enjoying the peace of Elysium Fields, can’t understand why her husband is so cold.Inevitably the condition is broken and Orfeo left to mourn anew.
Mezzo-soprano Emma Roberts, studying at the RCM’s International Opera Studio, brings to the role of Orfeo a warm and burnished tone that promises well for future roles. Her heart-felt rendering of “Che faro” – Orfeo’s lament for life without Euridice – drew enthusiastic applause. Soprano Lizzie Holmes as Euridice died beautifully, with an air of bewilderment, (“What did I do?”) at the second on-off trip to Hell and back.
I had reservations about Gluck’s sublime orchestral score being transferred to electric guitar and Yamaha keyboard. In contrast, the choice of double bass (bassist Lucy Mulgan) and keyboard worked nicely for the robust Zanetto, first performed in 1896 though, unlike Mascagni’s earliest hit Cavalleria Rusticana, rarely performed since. Mascagni became overshadowed by his near contemporary Giacomo Puccini – a fellow student and one-time flatmate during their Milanese youth.
The motives of courtesan Silvia in resolutely rejecting her would-be lover Zanetto seem obscure, unless you recall the plot of Verdi’s La Traviata. After years of trading in mercenary sex, Silvia longs to capture the joy of true love but after she falls for the sound of the wandering minstrel’s voice, she swiftly realises when the young man appears at her door, that by sharing her life he will also share her disgrace in the eyes of 19th century society. Lizzie Holmes shone as Silvia, bringing a depth of emotion to the conflicted heart, and Roberts captured the impulsive Zanetto who confesses it suits him “to wander like a dragon fly.”
Arcola Outside has been constructed in the realistic view that safety will continue to be a factor in attracting Covid-wary audiences. The outdoor covered performance space, designed by Jon Bausor, with distanced seats and outdoor bar, certainly answers space requirements, though noise from busy Dalston Lane can be intrusive at times.

Director: Lysanne van Overbeek.
Musical director: Lesley-Anne Sammons.
Designer: Bettina John.
Production photograph of Lizzie Hol;mes as Euridice : Peter Mould.

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