Music and Vision homepage 'Elgar and Chivalry' by Robert Anderson - available now from Elgar.org

 

Ensemble

Consummate Style

ROBERT HUGILL is won over by
English National Opera's 'Orfeo'

 

The most successful productions of Monteverdi's Orfeo seem to be those which create a complete dramatic world in which Monteverdi's characters can function and express themselves. The opera is not one of those where the entire story can be deduced from the rubric and the libretto -- the director and designers have to do some work. Past productions which have been successful in this line include Jean-Pierre la Ponelle's for Zurich Opera which re-invented the world of the Mantuan court in terms of Ponelle's own stylised vision; David Freeman's highly regarded production for English National Opera which seems to have set Acts 1 and 2 in some sort of Eastern European village; and not least Roger Norrington and Kay Lawrence's reconstruction of the production style of Monteverdi's own day.

The funeral of Eurydice, in Chen Shi-Zheng's new production of 'Orfeo' for English National Opera. Photo © 2006 Catherine Ashmore
The funeral of Eurydice, in Chen Shi-Zheng's new production of 'Orfeo' for English National Opera. Photo © 2006 Catherine Ashmore

For its new production at the London Coliseum (seen Saturday 22 April 2006), English National Opera turned to the Chinese director Chen Shi-Zheng. He has already directed Monteverdi's Vespers in a staged production for the Haydn and Handel Society of Boston. This new production is a co-production with them. Trained in traditional Chinese opera, Chen Shi-Zheng emigrated from China to the USA in 1987. Since then his stage works have attempted to cross the boundaries between music, opera, theatre, dance and between different cultures. His CV includes a wide range of site-specific works and besides Monteverdi, the only other traditional operas listed are The Flying Dutchman, Così fan tutte and The Bacchae.

Members of the Orange Island Dance Co. Photo © 2006 Catherine Ashmore
Members of the Orange Island Dance Co. Photo © 2006 Catherine Ashmore

For this production, Chen Shi-Zheng combined modern opera singers with his own Javanese dance troupe; this troupe, the Orange Island Dance Company, combine traditional Javanese dance with western music. The costumes for the singers were all western influenced which contrasted with the oriental dancers. Despite the stunning visual nature of the production, there were moments in Act 1 when it looked like a western wedding where a troupe of dancing oriental waiters had been hired.

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Copyright © 24 April 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK

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'Elgar and Chivalry' by Robert Anderson - available now from Elgar.org