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Lost in translation

In Classical Music, Opera, Review on October 4, 2015 at 3:31 pm

Review – Orphée et Eurydice (Royal Opera House, Saturday 3 October 2015)

Orphée – Juan Diego Flórez
Eurydice – Lucy Crowe
Amour – Amanda Forsythe

Directors – Hofesh Shechter & John Fulljames
Designer – Conor Murphy
Lighting Designer – Lee Curran
Choreographer – Hofesh Shechter

Hofesh Shechter Company
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists

John Eliot Gardiner (Conductor)

It’s a shame that Gluck is not performed more often in London. Rameau, thanks to be English National Opera and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, doesn’t do too badly, but Gluck does miserably. So I was excited to see this production and was fortunate – in some ways – to be able to see the final performance following an unexpected change in my diary.

So it was a tad disappointing that, despite a clear intention, that the Royal Opera House production of Orphée et Eurydice is a hit and miss affair. And that the misses could so easily have been avoided, as they were very few.

But first, simply how magnificent were the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir under the baton of John Eliot Gardiner? There was a vibrancy, energy and sheer simplicity to both playing and singing that cut straight to the original intentions of Gluck. No frills. No affectations. Just simple, beautifully articulate performances of music they clearly love and cherish.

If one single moment in the opera stands out, it was the opening of the second act as the chorus confronted Orphée’s attempts to enter Hades. Their physicality perfectly matched the music, as did their subsequent yet gradual change of heart.

From the orchestra itself, Gardiner coaxed wonderfully pliant and magical playing from the flute and oboe soloists as well as unearthing the right timbre for the brass throughout.

Playing and singing of that calibre is all to often missing from the opera houses in London at the moment. Let’s hope that Covent Garden ask the ensemble to return again, although hopefully within a more inspiring production.

Of the singers, while there was great anticipation for Signor Flórez, the laurels – despite the all-too-expected adoration of the Covent Garden audience who more often than not cheer a well-known name rather than talent – rightfully belong to Lucy Crowe. What an eloquent, impassioned performance she gave. Vocally Ms Crowe was simply splendid. The simplicity of Cet asile amiable et tranquille was more than off-set by the emotion with which she infused her subsequent duet and air with her lacklustre spouse.

Similarly, Amanda Forsythe made an excellent and brightly voiced Amour – elegantly dispatching Si le doux accords de ta lyre and Soumis au silence. Sadly, in the final scene she was only slightly let down by the direction at the close of the opera, playing her syncopated vocal line for laughs rather than the sincerity that Gluck originally intended.

I admit that I am not a fan of Juan Diego Flórez. I had originally intended to see Michele Angelini but a change of plans meant I had to swap my ticket. Personally I think that Flórez more often than not sounds too forced vocally and as a result his singing is rather bland and one dimensional. There’s no doubting that he negotiated the role of Orphée but it was ‘Flórez’ not Orphée on stage. It was only when he shared the stage and the singing with Lucy Crowe that his performance lifted above a more usual stand-and-deliver norm. Clearly Covent Garden felt they needed a name rather than the right performer to sell the tickets.

If Flórez was one part of the equation to get the tills ringing, I have to wonder if Hofesh Shechter was the other.

The production – the brainchild of Shechter and Fulljames – was visually interesting and perhaps they should consider putting the orchestra on stage for ‘period’ operas more often. But a desire to fill every single moment with movement obscured the simplicity of Gluck’s drama.

I have absolutely no problem with dancing being integral to a production – you only have to look at the success of the Rameau project with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment – but when it adds little to the drama, and indeed seems superfluous to it and even distracting, then I have to question what purpose it serves. In the Eighteenth Century, ballet was an integral part of opera, playing an essential narrative role. In the programme, Shechter talked about bringing out the simplicity of the opera. It started well but then the choreography just began to resemble the mania of Trainspotting. I remember being absolutely mesmerized and moved by Pina Bausch’s Iphigenie auf Tauris – the elegance, the commitment to not only reflecting, but also amplifying the drama seemed to come naturally. Shechter is no Bausch. What he gave us was messy, uninvolved and ultimately undermined what Gluck had intended – dance fused with the music and the drama to tell the story.

At the end of the opera, the suite of dances should feel like a natural extension of what has gone before. I would have been happier to have just sat back and listening to the glorious playing of the English Baroque Soloists rather than be subjected to the maniacal thrashing about presented at the front and back of the stage.

Indeed, had they dispensed with Shechter’s choreography, overall the simplicity of production would have won out.

Glücklich? Not really.


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