A marriage doomed from the onset, Orpheus and Eurydice’s union is perhaps one of the most well -known stories within the Greek pantheon of myths and legends. Prophesised to not last, both enjoy a short lived romance, inevitably put to a bitter end by the cruel passing of Eurydice.
Inspired by this enduring classic, the English National Opera stage Gluck’s eighteenth century opera, kicking off their Orpheus Series with a reimagining of the tale. We are made aware prior to the performance that Orpheus, performed by mezzo Alice Coote is unwell, this only adding a level of respect to Coote from the audience, as she effortlessly and seamlessly powers on. Choreographed and directed by Olivier Award winning choreographer Wayne McGregor, the evening is split into four segments just over twenty minutes a piece. With this, McGregor aims to depict Orpheus’ perilous pursuit through the underworld to reunite with her love one last time.
Conductor Harry Bicket beautifully captures the evening’s mood, the orchestra the show’s driving force and key element. Act I sets the tone for the rest of the evening, Orpheus (Coote) and Eurydice (Sarah Tynan) married yet very quickly ripped apart by the latter’s passing. The short duration of each Act is crucial for accessibility, especially for audiences new to the Opera form. However, this takes away from the audience’s emotional investment in the couple, and laying this foundation is crucial for the rest of the evening. The process of marriage and loss happens quickly, little is known about Orpheus and Eurydice, they’re mysterious in character and relationship further creating a sense of distance. Lizzie Clachan’s addition of a Perspex box centre stage, as Eurydice lays lifeless inside contributes a feeling of melancholy, however a feeling of distance with both characters persists.
Acts II, III and IV witness 14 young dancers from Studio Wayne McGregor build a mythical world consisting of sinister subterranean architecture and monstrous creatures from Ceberus the three headed dog to mischievous fairies and nymphs. McGrogor’s spritely choreography witnesses a cast constantly on the move, shape shifting and accompanying Orpheus’ heart rending journey. Ben Cullen Williams compliments Clachan’s minimalist staging with video projections ranging from a grey colourless oceanic expanse to blurry white noise images attributed to an analogue television set. Louise Gray’s experimentation with patterns, ranging from monochrome, to fluorescent pieces gives McGregor’s production an exuberant air, Orpheus’ descent from the real, to the underworld apparent.
The opening of the English National Opera’s Orpheus Series welcomes a new age of opera viewers, the organisation’s ethos admirable. The evening however attempts to assemble multiple elements, overshadowing a story of simplicity, a story of a couple doomed early on and left to live a life without one another. Gluck’s score overpowers everything else, and so does the story. 3/5
Review written by Lucy Basaba.
Orpheus and Eurydice will show on selected dates until Tuesday 19th November 2019. To find out more about the production, visit here…