"Don't look back!" could almost be the subtitle of two early operas which both treat the Orpheus legend, though in very different ways. Although his recently married young wife, Eurydice, has died of a snake-bite, Orpheus can yet reclaim her from the jaws of hell on the condition that he doesn't look behind him to check if she is still following. In Claudio Monteverdi's Orfeo (1607), a fatal backward glance costs Orpheus his beloved, with the Chorus commenting on a man who can conquer Hades, but not his own emotions. A century and a half after Monteverdi, Christoph Willibald von Gluck took the Enlightenment perspective. Again Orpheus looks back, and Eurydice is damned again ... only for deus-ex-machina Cupid to intervene, reunite the couple on earth in happiness, and restore celestial harmony .
Monteverdi's Orfeo lays claim to being the world's first really major opera, because of its minute attention to musical storytelling, its sense of large-scale structure, and its elaborate vocal writing and ingenious instrumentation. But Gluck's version is no less masterful, a delightful concoction, full of rich orchestral colouring and a considerable dance element.
With Orfeo, Kent Opera showcases the company's new artistic triumvirate of conductor John Toll, director Tim Carroll and designer Roger Butlin, with baritone Gwion Thomas taking the title role. In Gluck's work, that role was originally conceived for castrato. World-renowned counter-tenor Michael Chance sings it at the London Coliseum, to Lesley Garrett's Eurydice, in a new production from director- choreographer Martha Clarke, with Jane Glover conducting.
EYE ON THE NEW
Three seminal works from the 1960s constitute Sir Simon Rattle's Towards the Millennium concert with his CBSO - Messiaen's contemplative Et Exspecto Resurrectionem Mortuorum, Lutoslawski's vibrant Cello Concerto, with Lynn Harrell as soloist, and Berio's parodic and multi-layered Sinfonia, with the orchestra joined by the vocal group, Electric Phoenix.
Symphony Hall, Birmingham, 5 Mar, 7.30pmReuse content