If ever grief was captured in a performance, this is it. Opera North’s Orfeo ed Euridice is a dramatic concert performance, where the set and costume design is stripped back, leaving the singers and music to take centre stage.
That said, the stage isn’t completely bare. There is a star-lit, back-cloth, a platform in the centre of the stage that acts as a tomb, and dramatic theatre lighting. The singers, including a large chorus, are all in character; so rather than a concert it feels like the cast has fallen down a great hole into the centre of the Earth. For Gluck’s late 18th century reforming opera, where the hero walks through hell and back, the staging works perfectly and only adds to the intensity of emotion in the piece.
The curtain raises to reveal the large chorus, dressed all in black, singing a funeral lament. Immediately we are thrown into a scene of overwhelming grief with Orfeo at the centre mourning the loss of his wife, Euridice (Fflur Wyn).
The part of Orfeo was originally written for a castrato. Here it is sung by mezzo-soprano, Alice Coote in her first appearance with the company since 2009. Her heart-wrenching performance encapsulates the anguish of grief as she takes us on this rollercoaster journey through disbelief, anger and despair. The effect is so powerful it cuts straight to the heart and makes you want to cry out in empathy.
For opera fans this concert is real treat. Not only because of the quality of the performance, but because of the history to the opera. The story of Orpheus and Euridice is the founding myth of opera, being the subject of the earliest surviving operatic work from 1600.
‘Che farò senza Euridice’ is perhaps the most well-known aria from the opera. But even if you’re unfamiliar with the music, its impact is immediate and will sweep you away on its rip-tide of passion.
If this all sounds a bit too heavy given the current climate, the heart-break is not the end of the story. So don’t worry, you won’t be left bereft. Orfeo may go to hell and back in search of his lost love, but the Gods hear his cry and after setting him several tasks, love intervenes for the lovers to be reconciled. In the final scene all on earth sing in praise of Amore (Daisy Brown) and we are lifted by love’s enduring strength. It’s an opera to capture your heart.
Opera North Orfeo ed Euridice was at The Lowry, Salford on 18 November 2022.