Christoph Gluck’s first opera Ezio was performed in 1750 a decade after Handel’s last (“Deidamia” in 1741) and his final opera (Echo et Narcisse) came in 1779 just before Mozart’s brilliant and prolific run from Idomeno (1781) to Die Zauberflöte (1791). Gluck was a bridge between different operatic eras and in particular, he took the art form into a new dramatic direction that we now take for granted. The story is at least as important as the music and dance. The breakthrough came with Orfeo and Euridice in 1762 which as a story dates back to the Orpheus myths of classical times. Any production of the opera has to tell the story clearly as well, of course, as presenting the beautiful music. The remarkable production by Pamela Schermann at the Bridewell Theatre in the “Opera in the City” festival season does this splendidly. The Bridewell is a small theatre (180 seats) but it has a good-sized stage and is ideal for Time Zone’s revival of their production first seen at The Rose Bankside back in 2014.
Orfeo and Euridice has only three roles – the two characters in the title and Amore who is the God of Love. The chorus is flexible in size – it can fill the stage (as in Peter Halls’ famous Glyndebourne production of 1982) or be limited to just five, as here, without really losing dramatic impact if done well. Similarly with the musicians. At a big opera house, there will be a full symphony orchestra – here four talented musicians and clever arrangements by Musical Director Andrew Charity worked very well (some glorious flute from Lianna Jefferey).
The role of Orfeo was originally written for a Castrato voice and in modern times it is generally seen as being for an Alto or a High Tenor (Haut-contre) voice. It is sometimes a trouser role – memorably Janet Baker in Hall’s Glyndebourne production. At the Bridewell Lawrence Olsworth-Peter, a High Tenor performs the role melodically and subtly – a bravado tenor voice is not called for and Olsworth-Peter is ideal casting. As is Caroline Kennedy as Euridice – she has a lovely voice and acts convincingly as well. I also enjoyed Lizzie Holmes Amore. With two soprano principals, a high tenor and an entirely female chorus we are very much in the high register here!
The opera starts – unusually I think – with a sort of flashback to the wedding of Orfeo and Euridice during the overture before we plunge into the gloom of Orfeo morning for his dear departed. I thought this was a clever device and accentuated what we soon see is the idée fixe of the play – grief and the striving to return to the happiness of the marriage. The story progresses with the music almost seeming like a continuum. Even the familiar arias like Orfeo’s “Che farò senza Euridice” in the final Act seem integral to the music flow rather than being applause-seeking highlights. This great aria has dramatic intent in Gluck’s clever treatment (it inspires the gods to be kind) and this production is very true to that intent.
Congratulations to Time Zone Theatre for this fine revival and to “Opera in the City” and the Bridewell Theatre for offering us such an enjoyable experience. The last performance is on Tuesday 28th but in early September there is a new opera also in the “Underworld” to look forward to – Simone Spagnolo’s “Faust, Alberta”.
Review by Paddy Briggs
Christoph Willibald Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, who – unable to accept the death of his beloved wife Eurydice – descends into the Underworld to bring her back. Moved by his pleas, the Spirits grant him permission, but there is one condition: while leading her out of Hades, he must not turn around and face her.
Orpheus and Eurydice
Composer: Christoph Willibald Gluck
Translator/libretto: Andrew Charity
Dates: 22nd, 24th, 25th and 28th August, 7.30pm, running time: 1h50min
Venue: Bridewell Theatre, 14 Bride Lane, off Fleet Street, London EC4Y 8EQ
Social Media: @TimeZoneTheatre, @OperaCityFest, @BridewellCentre / fb: timezonetheatre
Creatives: Pamela Schermann (stage director), Andrew Charity (musical director), Cindy Lin (set and costume designer), Petr Vocka (lighting designer)
Cast: Lawrence Olsworth-Peter (Orpheus), Caroline Kennedy (Eurydice), Lizzie Holmes (Amor)