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Euridice -- the shining-voiced Anna Stéphany -- spends her time in the underworld held to the back wall of the set with yet more masking tape (given the emblematic nature of the proceedings I even wondered if some outrageous pun on 'masking' and 'masque-ing' was being perpetrated). From this position she also takes on the role of Hope, at which point the tape symbolises her inability to accompany Orpheus beyond the River Styx.

Throughout the action an older man sits at the front left of the stage wearing headphones and brandishing a microphone, recording Orpheus's singing on a portable cassette recorder. This turns out to be Apollo, Orpheus's father. As he comes to console him in Act 5, telling him 'This is how you will achieve immortality', he presents him with the completed cassette.

Given that the Orpheus myth is all about the power of music, and as such has attracted opera composers throughout the genre's history, Opera North's twist on the story opens up whole new fields of interpretation. This Orpheus is at least desperately insecure, if not paranoid, about his need to be accepted. 'Possente spirito', indeed, becomes less of an invocation to a mighty spirit of the underworld, more of a baroque mad song. In the end he seems to be both consoled and tormented by his art, beating his armchair rhythmically in time with the opera's final number (and continuing for a few seconds after the orchestra stops).

Musically, this is an outstanding production, with a uniformly excellent cast, and spirited playing from the Opera North orchestra, co-opting such luminaries of the early music world as Pamela Thorby (recorder), Paula Chateauneuf (theorbo) and Mark Levy (organ). The madrigalian character of the chorus writing comes across particularly well. The opera is performed straight through with no interval.

Opera North is on a roll at the moment; the announcement of a new commission from Jonathan Dove, to be premièred at the end of this year, is exciting news indeed.

Copyright © 4 March 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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