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But what of the musical performance? All the smaller roles were well cast, and the individual members of the ensemble made a good impressions. Baritone William Berger and counter-tenor Tim Mead particularly stood out. But Tom Randle also impressed, partly by his ability to subsume his strong stage personality into the ensemble. Randle had his solo moment at the end when he played Apollo. Brindley Sherratt made a good Charon, giving the role a dark quality without introducing the rather gritty sound that basses often bring to this role. Pluto and his wife Persephone were played by Jeremy White and Stephanie Marshall; their musical qualities though were rather overshadowed by their remarkable orange costumes and the palanquins in which they were carried. This an example of Chen Shi-Zheng's visual imagination rather overbalancing the music, but these were rare and his visual images were remarkably apposite.
Jeremy White as Pluto and Stephanie Marshall as Proserpina. Photo © 2006 Catherine Ashmore
The most moving was the ending when Tom Randle's endearingly impatient Apollo descended from the flies. On inviting Orfeo to join him, John Mark Ainsley was slung to the base of Randle's chariot and slowly pulled upwards, his body rotating slowly, suspended in mid-air for all the world like a Bill Viola video.
A scene from the finale. Photo © 2006 Catherine Ashmore
Ruby Philogene made an attractive Euridice, but it was Ainsley's towering performance as Orfeo which held this staging together. A generous performer, he never dominated for the sake of it but invested his performance with immense energy and vitality. His performance of Possente spirito was stunning for its sheer vocal virtuosity but was profoundly moving as well. This is what was amazing about Ainsley's performance -- his command of Monteverdian ornament was superb but it was always just a means to an end. For Orfeo's great scene of lamenting at the opening of Act 4, Chen Shi-Zheng allowed Ainsley the stage to himself for the first time, to stunning effect.
Copyright © 24 April 2006
Robert Hugill, London UK