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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate