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Confined to the shades

Monteverdi's 'Orfeo' -
reviewed by

'... Stephen Stubbs is to be congratulated on an imaginative realisation ...'

Claudio Monteverdi: L'Orfeo. De Nederlandse Opera/NPS. © 1997 NPS, 2005 Opus Arte

Music herself (or himself in this production by Pierre Audi) launches Monteverdi's Orfeo, throwing down the gauntlet to the protagonist by telling the audience how splendid a singer he is, able to tame the wildest beast and enchant both heaven and hell. As if to emphasise his supremacy, Music, possessed of her own 'lute', smashes it in a fit of pique at the end of her exordium. This is bravely symbolic, but leaves us no wiser about Orpheus as lutenist, since he does not strike a single note henceforth. The Thracian stream that Monteverdi envisaged for the Mantuan première has been transformed by the set designer Michael Simon into a miniature version of the Round Pond in Kensington Gardens.

A scene from Act 1 of 'Orfeo'. DVD screenshot © 1997 NPS, 2005 Opus Arte
A scene from Act 1 of 'Orfeo'. DVD screenshot © 1997 NPS, 2005 Opus Arte

The Round Pond is indeed the main feature of the staging, which is otherwise bare but for rocks that come and go. Its function in Act 1 is beyond me. The chorus and most of the cast wade into it on various occasions. Maybe they are thus purified for the imminent wedding of Orpheus and Eurydice, about which they sing with joyous expectation [listen -- 'Vieni Imeneo, deh, vieni' (Act 1), DVD1 chapter 5, 0:00-1:06]. Instrumentally there is a lovely range of effects throughout the work, and the nuptial couple (John Mark Ainsley and Juanita Lascarro) are sped radiantly towards what should be a cheerful future [listen -- 'Rosa del Ciel ... Io non dirò qual sia' (Act 1), DVD1 chapter 7, 1:55-3:00].

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Copyright © 18 January 2006 Robert Anderson, London UK


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