The Opera North production of Gluck's Orfeo went out amid an astonishing chorus of booing, the loudest every heard in well-behaved Edinburgh.
The Opera North production of Gluck's Orfeo went out amid an astonishing chorus of booing, the loudest every heard in well-behaved Edinburgh. It was hard to discern the reason for this. The show was planned largely by the dancer Emio Greco, and it may be that his style of dancing upset many in the audience. He seemed possessed by something between St Vitus's dance, delirium tremens and epileptic convulsions. His seven dancers, though often fluent and poetic in their movements, copied his convulsive manner.
Yet this seemed an honest attempt to get to grips with an opera that has become unstageable. If you subject it to a realistic approach, with the Furies as bogeymen and the happy ending appearing from nowhere, it turns into childish pap. You can pretend that it is a ballet (as Mark Morris has done) or reduce it to concert performance. To stage it, you need real intelligence and insight.
Greco's version looked like a religious ritual, Egyptian perhaps, or Greek. Every movement was choreographed, even those of the singers, and the arias were sung with stylised hieratic gestures. The chorus stood still or walked about in a stately step, the eight dancers circulating among them. Greco himself dominated the stage, wobbling, shimmying and twitching.
There was a white box-set (designed by Greco and his fellow-producer, Pieter Scholten); the chorus were in white, the dancers in black. The appearance of this production was severe and classical, except, of course, for the manic dancing.
All of this might have pleased Gluck and his librettist, Calzabigi. Like most operatic reformers, they wanted to restore the spirit of Greek drama. However, it certainly did not reproduce the style of the 18th century. The static, formal dances of that time disappeared completely. Many of the dance sequences were ignored; the Furies were embodied in a single performer. The closing dances, however, were bewitching, the stage being full of leaping and flying Bacchantes.
The booers seemed to have overlooked, also, the fact that the musical standard was mainly admirable, though it still seems a mistake to give castrato roles to counter-tenors, and Daniel Taylor as Orfeo sounded feral in the upper register, pastel in the lower. His Euridice, Isabel Monar, was much warmer and plaintive, an artist of poise and intensity in spite of her Spanish consonants. Claire Ormshaw, as Amore, sang with a pure diminutive tone, even managing to dance as she sang.
The musical direction by Nicholas Kok was lightsome and joyous. Even the rather half-baked attempts of the singers to embellish their aria reprises did not hold up the sweet lyric flow. Unfortunately, Greco overplayed his hand. After Gluck's score had run its course, he continued to lurch about, with the aid of his assistants. Finally, the lights went out. It was almost as if he had choreographed the boos, along with everything else.Reuse content