Opera North returns to the myth of Orpheus for a second night at The Lowry, but this time this ancient story takes on a whole new operatic form in a collaboration with South Asian Arts UK.
In a ground-breaking exploration of musical styles this new production of Orpheus fuses European baroque style of the earliest operas with classical Indian music.
This is definitely not Monteverdi’s 1607 opera with an Indian twist, but a much more fluid performance where both traditions are weighted equally. To reflect this, the piece has two musical directors, baroque specialist, Laurence Cummings and composer and sitarist, Jasdeep Singh Degun, who has written new music which melds with the original to create a fresh vision of the story.
This is an Orpheus for the 21st century and is set in the garden of a semi-detached modern-day home. Leslie Travers’ inviting and detailed set, with trellis-top fencing, planted garden and the changing activity of lighted windows to match the setting sun, puts us immediately in familiar territory. Even if the music is new to us the situation and the emotions playing out are not.
The show opens on the happiest of scenes: Orpheus’ (Nicholas Watts) wedding to Eurydice (Ashnaa Saskikaran). The staging is almost like a concert performance with the musicians on stage. This creates a vibrancy and interest of its own, especially for those like myself who are unfamiliar with some of the Indian instruments – watching the speed at which RN Prakash beats the Ghatam is mesmerising.
The Western-style of the opera is sung in Italian while the Eastern elements are sung in different South Asian languages: Hindi, Urdu, Malayalam, Bengali, Panjabi and Tamil.
Orpheus is a myth that examines themes of grief, love, and the power of music. These deepest of emotions are universal, and this cross-cultural project is to be applauded, for highlighting the parallels in traditions that are not at first apparent.
Just as when Orpheus emerges from the underworld, we too emerge with a new and different way of looking at the world. In many ways this level of innovation is almost too much to fully appreciate at one sitting. But that said, the reaction from the audience was immense – it was very clear they loved it.
For those who do want to watch it again, the show is available to watch for free via streaming platform Opera Vision for 6 months from 31 October.
Opera North Orpheus: Monteverdi reimagined was at The Lowry on 19 November 2022.