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The curtain rises on Opera North's new production of Monteverdi's Orfeo (Theatre Royal, Nottingham, UK, 24 February 2007) to reveal the cast, in a motley variety of costumes, lounging listlessly on sofas and easy chairs. The setting is some sort of atrium with a gallery of large window-recesses on along the right wall, from which La Musica appears, arriving to deliver the Prologue in show-girl outfit complete with enormous head-dress.

Where exactly are we, and what's going on in Christopher Alden's production (a co-production with Glimmerglass Opera, Den Norske Opera and Greek National Opera)? The cast is on stage the whole time, both watching and taking part, as Paul Nilon's superbly sung Orpheus acts out his ordeal of losing Euridice not once but twice. They seem at first to be hostile, or at least politely derisive. The turning-point comes with the great set-piece aria in Act 3, 'Possente spirito', which Orpheus here addresses less to Charon than to the others, and through which he starts to win a degree of sympathy. It is a superbly realised dramatic moment.

The production is full of points like that, making you gasp, first at their sheer effrontery, then -- as you come to realise their significance -- their dramatic rightness, or at least the point of their challenge to our expectations.

Orpheus and Euridice go through a kind of marriage ceremony in which they are bound together (literally) with masking tape. But Euridice is plainly unhappy and starts to pull away. As Orpheus sings to the woods of his past misery and present happiness in Act 2 the cast piles up furniture around him, with more strips of masking tape creating a kind of cage from which he hears the Messenger's news of Euridice's death. We turn to to see her seated at the side with Euridice slumped sideways across her lap.

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Copyright © 4 March 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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