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Hal Cazalet made a personable and approachable Orfeo, creating a character with whom you could empathise. I felt that the part seemed to lie a little low for him, though this mattered less because of the smallness of both the accompanying ensemble and the theatre. In the lyrical sections he was touching and appealing but in the more elaborately decorated parts his vibrato occluded the vocal line. I far prefer Orfeo sung with a greater sense of line and far greater clarity in the ornamentation. This is not to say his account of such great moments as 'possente spirto' was not expressive, but it did sound smudged.

After Orfeo had sung 'possente spirto' there then occurred one of the rather odder parts of the stage action. Having put Charon to sleep, Orfeo stole his staff and them strapped huge blocks (perhaps floats) to his feet to stagger across the stage.

The ending was disappointing for two reasons. First Rhys-Evans and Cazalet's duet was musically very flabby with less than ideal fioriture. Secondly, Conway attempted to combine both the Apollonian and Bacchic endings by having Orfeo climb up onto the pile of stones and as the curtain came down, the cast started to stone him.

Robert Howarth and the ETO baroque band provided exemplary accompaniment. Howarth's speeds were on the brisk side, which lent incisiveness and vividness to the performance, but meant that the opening fanfares lacked grandeur. The ensembles were reinforced by the participation of a local Cambridge choir (a different local choir is being used in each tour location). This was, in theory, a good idea, but from my seat in the rear stalls I found that the choir contributed little towards the overall sound -- perhaps due to some quirk of the theatre acoustic.

Katherine Manley as Euridice in English Touring Opera's production of Monteverdi's 'Orfeo'. Photo © 2006 Keith Pattison
Katherine Manley as Euridice in English Touring Opera's production of Monteverdi's 'Orfeo'. Photo © 2006 Keith Pattison

Few performances of Orfeo can do musical and dramatic justice to Monteverdi's masterpiece, although James Conway, Robert Howarth and their cast managed, for all their faults, to give an involving and vividly dramatic production which was very well received by the Cambridge audience.

Copyright © 26 October 2006 Robert Hugill, London UK






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