Blessed superhuman musical skills, Orpheus is a legendary hero from Greek myth. He is so consumed with grief at the death of his beloved Euridice that the gods allow him to lead her back from the underworld on one condition: that he will not look at her on the way. But who can resist looking at a loved one?
His story is simple and touching. It has fascinated composers for centuries. Orpheus has became the emblem of the artist who rises above earthly worries and brings us closer to eternal truths.
Orfeo ed Euridice
Premiered in 1762, Orfeo ed Euridice is a turning point in the history of opera. Freeing the plot from the conventions of the 18th century opera seria, Gluck introduces fluidity to the drama. The rigid alternation of aria and recitativo is abandoned; continuity and unity are the cornerstones of Gluck's reform. The movement of Gluck’s music - with its lyrical intensity and the interweaving of chorus, solo singing and dance - appeals to choreographers. New National Theatre Tokyo has entrusted their new production to Japanese choreographer and dancer Saburo Teshigawara, known for the beauty and coherence of his productions. Here, he oversees the staging, set, costumes and lighting, with Masato Suzuki conducting the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra. In a month that OperaVision dedicates to the Orpheus myth, this stop in Japan is a key marker of the universal power of music. With his most famous aria Che farò senza Euridice enchanting generations, Gluck sets opera on a new path that would ultimately lead to Berlioz and Wagner.
In 1607, Claudio Monteverdi created his Orfeo, for the Carnival opening at the Court Theatre of Duke Vincenzo I in Mantua. Billed as a ‘musical fable’, here was a new form where characters are brought to life with poignant human feelings. Orfeo’s dramatic power gave birth to what we call opera today. As in the original performance in an intimate space in Mantua, Garsington’s summer 2022 production sees the singers and musicians very close; the instrumentalists are part of the action, onstage and visible. Early music specialist Laurence Cummings conducts the musicians of The English Concert. Arielle Smith choreographs singers and dancers; the chorus is a constant presence and critical to the storytelling. Ecstatically received by audiences and critics alike, here is an evening to do justice Monteverdi's genius and power to encapsulate the human condition through music, movement and song.
Orphée aux Enfers
Eurydice, the central figure, hates the music personified by her spouse, Orpheus, a humble music teacher from Thebes. Aristaeus, a shepherd and divine seducer, is actually Pluto himself disguised. Jupiter, father of the gods, is constantly on the prowl for the ladies. Yes the goddesses and gods are weary of everyday life on Olympus and are in search of diversions. Burning with curiosity about the beautiful abductee and the contest between Jupiter and Pluto for the favour of Eurydice, the illustrious company embarks on a hellish ride into the underworld, culminating in what is probably the most famous can-can in music history. In this enchanting production from the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence from 2009 with a young cast from the European Academy of Music, director Yves Beaunesne transposes the action to the 1940s and spreads it over the four floors of a bourgeois residence. From the kitchen (Orpheus' home) to the attic (the Underworld), via the dining room (Olympus) and the bedroom (Pluto's boudoir), he succeeds in teasing out all the humour and elegance of Offenbach’s satirical masterpiece.
Opera North’s adventurous new production of an ancient tragedy is told through a meeting of the worlds of Indian and western baroque classical music. The bowed strings of the violin and the tar shehnai, the hammered strings of the santoor, the plucked strings of the harpsichord and sitar, and the rhythms of the tabla shape a unique musical encounter. Laurence Cummings, who also conducted Garsington’s Orfeo, is here joined by Jasdeep Singh Degun as co-music director to weave together their respective traditions of Indian classical and western early music. An onstage orchestra of 19 players includes a baroque ensemble of violin, viola, cello, bass, trumpet, percussion, harp, harpsichord, lirone and theorbo, as well as Indian classical instruments including sitar, tabla, santoor, esraj and bansuri. The cast includes performers trained in western and Indian classical traditions, with tenor Nicholas Watts singing Orpheus and British-Tamil Carnatic singer Ashnaa Sasikaran singing Eurydice. In this meeting of East and West, OperaVision closes a month dedicated to opera’s ongoing fascination with the myth of Orpheus.