Autumn has officially arrived. Welcomed into the action by the torrential downpours and gloomy political fallout, there is at least one thing to celebrate: a new production series at the ENO: ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’.
Running over the next month and a half, this opera is a two-hour tantalising take on Glock’s masterpiece that at times distracts the audience through its modern production but still remains an enjoyable evening nonetheless.
Gluck, known for his truncation of the Baroque style and greater emphasis on the dramatic form, uses the opera to follow the story of the myth of Orpheus: a master poet and lute player who could charm his surroundings and attempts to return his wife Eurydice from the Underworld. The story begins with the sorrow and regret Orpheus has for his lost wife. In this production this is portrayed through the glass coffin that floats above the ground. The scene echoes aspects of Damien Hirst’s, “The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living” but also the ghostliness of the formaldehyde-soaked specimens of the Royal College of Surgeon’s Huntarian museum as Eurydice’s lifeless body is suspended, motionless for all to see.
The lighting further demonstrates this malaise through the use of shadows, the casts’ dominating profiles falling on the stark white-washed walls that border the stage making the stage feel crowded with bodies despite the few members of cast on stage. The scene is rich in distinct discomfort when accompanied by the superb Alice Coote who sings gallantly despite having had a viral illness over the past few weeks, making one feel overwhelmed by the sadness of the scene.
As Cupid appears and explains there is a way he may be able to reclaim his wife from the underworld, the collective heart did not swell with anticipation or joy. Instead, a feeling of deep disconnect between aspects of the production. The depth of emotion or attachment to the characters, that the chorus, singers and orchestra attempt to evoke, is lost. The music itself is well executed and the interplay between the voices of the three leads is well balanced, with their filigree vibrato putting a smile on the audience’s faces as we revelled at their artistic talent.
The set itself is minimalist in nature, an LCD board lighting up occasionally but often blinding the audience and distracting them from the intricate dance on stage. Certain uses of the screen worked well; the use of white noise as Orpheus descends into the Underworld as a visual representation of Limbo itself, but all too often the harsh lights steal the audience’s attention. The costumes are, at times, self-indulgent. The garish fluorescent UV costumes the dancers wear detract from the intimacy of their dance, drawing your eye away and adding little to the atmosphere of the scene. That do not take anything away from the superb balletic dancers who frame the story through their movement, forming a Cerberus-like creature, recreating the serenity of Elysium and giving pace and drive to each act.
This performance is accessible for any newcomer: it is relatively short, visually stimulating and executed well. For me, however, it was at times emotionally muted and disjointed. I wanted more lust and more desolation so that when the couple are finally reunited there would be greater sense of relief and joy. That isn’t to say the performance isn’t enjoyable, but it is a production where the audience are separated from the stage, all too often wondering more about the thought process behind the artistic decisions rather than being enveloped in this love story.