Opera: The consolations of philosophy

Haydn's Orfeo Queen Elizabeth Hall, SBC, London

Imagine the legal furore if a promoter scuppered an Andrew Lloyd Weber or Harrison Birtwistle stage commission after the composer had completed his side of the bargain. Haydn apparently suffered a similar fate with precious little fuss, moving straight on to composing his first set of "London" symphonies. For, although his L'anima del filosofo (The Spirit of the Philosopher), commonly known by its alternative title of Orfeo ed Euridice, was completed early in 1791, it had to wait until the 1951 Maggio Musicale in Florence for its stage premiere, in a production starring Maria Callas and Boris Christoff.

Thursday's concert performance, part of the London Philharmonic's on- going Haydn Festival, proved the outstanding musical worth of Haydn's Orfeo, while highlighting its dramatic shortcomings. Cast, conductor and band can hardly be held responsible, however, for the accretions applied to the Orpheus myth (familiar from the works of Monteverdi and Gluck) by Haydn's librettist, Badini. Halfway through, a sibyl tells the legendary singer that his only hope of restoring Eurydice to life is to trust in the power of philosophy, a proven shield against the torments of Hades. Haydn rescues the scene with a beguiling coloratura aria that makes the strongest possible case for the consolation of philosophy, delivered here by Claron McFadden with abundant personality and the confidence of complete technical surety. I could have done without the distant accompaniment of steam-hammers at work in Act 3, perhaps preparing the way for Orpheus' descent to the Underworld (but, more prosaically, part of the Jubilee Line extension).

Frieder Bernius, not the most gainly of baton-wielders but one with a convincing grasp of the score, extracted stylish if not blemish free playing from a chamber-sized LPO and alert contributions from London Voices, above all highlighting the work's colour and the splendour of Haydn's choral writing. At times Bernius pressed ahead without the unanimous support of his singers, sweeping Eurydice along in her first aria, undermining its tenderness and testing Christiane Oelze's otherwise immaculate coloratura to the limits. Although lacking the mezzo qualities necessary to enrich the lower reaches of her music, Oelze balanced the vocal equation with radiant, beautifully shaded singing above the stave and a profoundly moving mezza voce treatment of the heroine's departing aria.

Orpheus' response to Eurydice's death summoned a wonderfully refined demonstration of bel canto from Kurt Streit, who husbanded the resources of his voice to reveal its winning qualities of projection and unmannered expression. His natural legato and breath control were in place for his demanding first aria, "Rendete a questo seno", with messa di voce shading and clear diction adding to its sheer seductiveness.

The role of Creonte, well enough sung by William Dazeley, calls out for a greater degree of emotional involvement than it received here, not of the woe-is-me variety but certainly more compassionate in kind; likewise, the entire cast, with the exception of McFadden, appeared unwilling to complement their fine singing with simple physical gestures, sideways glances or even the slightest hint that Haydn's work was intended for the stage and not the concert hall.

Repeat performance: 7pm Tuesday QEH, SBC, London SE1 (0171-960 4242)

Arts and Entertainment
Stewart Lee (Gavin Evans)


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Far Right and Proud: Reggies Yates' Extreme Russia

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West was mobbed in Armenia after jumping into a lake

Arts and Entertainment
The show suffers from its own appeal, being so good as to create an appetite in its viewers that is difficult to sate in a ten episode series

Game of Thrones reviewFirst look at season five contains some spoilers
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench and Kevin Spacey on the Red Carpet for 2015's Olivier Awards

Ray Davies' Sunny Afternoon scoops the most awards

Arts and Entertainment
Proving his metal: Ross Poldark (played by Aidan Turner in the BBC series) epitomises the risk-taking spirit of 18th-century mine owners

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne is reportedly favourite to play Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars in dystopian action thriller Mad Max: Fury Road

Arts and Entertainment
Josh, 22, made his first million from the game MinoMonsters

Grace Dent

Channel 4 show proves there's no app for happiness
Disgraced Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson
Arts and Entertainment
Game face: Zoë Kravitz, Bruce Greenwood and Ethan Hawke in ‘Good Kill’

film review

Arts and Entertainment
Living like there’s no tomorrow: Jon Hamm as Don Draper in the final season of ‘Mad Men’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
Yaphett Kotto with Julius W Harris and Jane Seymour in 1973 Bond movie Live and Let Die

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own