Thoughts on Orfeo at The Roundhouse/Youtube

All interested may watch here:

Preliminary thoughts on basis of that video: Orendt makes a fine Orfeo, a genuine tragic hero, the voice having a virile and honey-hued tone. He shed genuine tears when told of Euridice’s death and carried the weight of this production on his shoulders  (less Orfeo, and more Atlas…?) throughout. He navigates the varied fioriturae and melismatic passages well.

Mary Bevan does well too. It helps that I find her attractive in any case, but her voice completes the appeal. A shame that she doesn’t sing much here though, but that’s Euridice for you. Her acting convinces, as does Orendt’s.

Both enter into the more energetic moments with commitment. Once more I must reflect on the fact that modern singers must be:

a) attractive

b) sing in foreign languages (or not as here)

c) learn and memorise many words

d) act

e) emote

f) dance a bit

g) oh and, sing.

Bevan and Ordent do all the above.

The cavorting which should be nymphs and swains is indeed as one Twitter commentator (I think)  put it “a bit youth theatre”. Cavorting with green crepe streamers is all well and good, until it becomes a bit tiresome. At one point I said to myself “this is really good.” and then some more cavorting began, which stopped that sentiment quite quickly. But then, something was necessary to fill both the space of the situation, and the music.  There’s a lot of slapping and clunking, which is hardly well, balletic. As above though, all the youngsters (in boiler suits?) give themselves with commitment,. Some of the things they do a bit hair raising, and I feel bad to begrudge that, and the intention/motivation to involve them.

The production loses the classical elements of Monteverdi’s original, or at least choses not to foreground them. Compare Harnoncourt’s hoary offering in this which brings out those elements lucidly and explicitly:


The aesthetic of priests is a little apropos of nothing, hence why Harnoncourt, as literal minded as it is, succeeds. In the Roundhouse production Pluto and Proserpina are just spectators and their presence not quite explained – until they sing. Plus, the Harnoncourt supernumeraries cavort a bit better than than Roundhouse number. A guy in a suit as Charon isn’t very scary to me nor ominous. If this were the Charon who greeted me, I’d leave my obols at home, frankly.

More positives then:  the last act has greater dramatic power than the rest, and the Parting scene was well done.

I would have hoped for a little more jaunt and tumble from the orchestra, in the places where it must brim, a bit more vim, and in the tragic moments, a little more weight of sorrow. For there is sorrow, but there is joy too, and the balance is all. The orchestra did a good job, but I can’t quite tell as the mix in the video is a bit odd.

As a technical note on the same though: Sound team, please review your recording practices, on my system (and it may just be me) your recording is way too hot, clipping like crazy all over the place on loud notes. Not fun at all. Also having Bevan (and later Orendt) hang in a sling in the Underworld bits (having anyone in a sling anyway) always brings out the heebie-jeebies in me. I begin to fear suspension trauma, think about the Health and Safety assesments, fall arrest systems, HSE visits. (What can I say, it is important in my work.) They must have spent ages getting it past H+S not to mention training Orendt how to not die. Similarly those streamers must be a nightmare too. Click http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFI91v9yHYY&t=41m27s to see Ordent slip on one and take a tumble. Ouch.

I thought the libretto pretty wonderful overall. I am a fan of the pastoral and the fey, and this proto-pastoral opera has it in spades in Act 1 – so to speak. Praise to Dan Paterson, whose words bring this out. It might have been nice to have an option to turn off the subtitles: some of them are at variance with the big screen ones, and some are just wrong. A minor cavil.

In person it must have been a unique experience, albeit one which doesn’t 100% seem to succeed. Ditch the youth theatre and maybe use some pros (sorry, kids!) and give a closer eye to developing that religious aesthetic (or discard it entire) and all would be better.  Priests singing about Pluto and the Underworld doesn’t quite work for me: non sequitur city. Happily though, I agree with Operatraveller:

this is a wonderful inroad into making opera novel for regulars, and inclusive for those who otherwise might think it elitist.

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2 comments

  1. I agree with you about the health and safety angle. I also happen to be in a field where you get hyper sensitive about risk assessment and dear god witnessing these stunts in person makes me wiggy (as did the cage in I due Foscari).

    I thought the orchestra was a bit anonymous but I was too emotional and wasn’t sure if it was me or them. It’s definitely the Orendt show.

    I personally didn’t mind the kids. The choreography could have been more interesting but their commitment worked for me well enough.

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  2. Glad I wasn’t the only one! The cage wasn’t so bad for me, I had firm belief in it being able to take his weight but some things I have seen bring the fantods incipiently galloping, as here. I mean holy gods, the sling…no safety harness thing. Brave.

    Anonymous is what I’d say too. They were ok.

    I reckon if I had been there I would have found the kids more endearing, but. I agree about your comment though where they imitate the Styx. That was finely done. Also, had I been there I probably would have lost it at Orfeo being parted from his wife. Because, dude….that’s powerful stuff. Like you, Orfeo is a favourite of mine. Compact, classical references, nice music. All works for me.

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