Friday, 24 January 2014

Orfeo ed Euridice, English Pocket Opera Company, 21 January 2014

(sung in English, as Orpheus and Eurydice)
Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design
Orfeo – Paul Featherstone
Euridice – Pamela Hay
Amor – Joanna Foote

Mark Tinkler (director)
Alex Hopkins, Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson (lighting)
Maddy Rita Faye, Denisa Dumitrescu, Vivian Lu, Anastasia Glazova, Lucia Riley, Isabella van Bracekel, Eimear Monaghan, Mathias Krajewski, Robin Soutar (set designs)
Robin Soutar, Denisa Dumitrescu, Lucia Riley, Isabella van Braeckel, Eimear Monaghan (costumes)

Sivan Traub (violin)
Orpheus and Eurydice Chorus (chorus master: Matthew Watts)
Philip Voldman (musical director)

No sooner had I bewailed the lack of Gluck this tercentenary year than I discovered an off-the-beaten track offering from English Pocket Opera Company. Doubtless our idiotic public relations companies would describe Orfeo as ‘iconic’ or some such nonsense; we might be better sticking with ‘one of the most important operas ever written’. But these performances at Central Saint Martins are better considered in the light of a four-phase project for children and young people at primary, secondary, and tertiary levels of education. The first phase has been and gone: EPOC performed Opera Blocks (a one-hour introduction to opera and to Orfeo) to over 10,000 children in Camden schools. This second is a ‘promenade’ version open to schools and to the public, in which we walked through the new Central Saint Martins building in King’s Cross, the eight scenes in different locations, with designs – both sets and costumes – from members of the college.  Phases three and four will be a performance at the Royal Albert Hall, involving choirs from 55 (!) Camden schools and their orchestras, aided by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, and then finally work with schools to compose and produce their own versions.

Schoolchildren performed in the matinée performances; I attended an evening performance so did not have opportunity to hear them. However, there was a good deal to enjoy in what I heard. The heroic pianist/musical director Philip Voldman, assisted by violinist Sivan Traub, really brought those sections of the score performed to life. Some orchestral passages were to be heard via loudspeaker; there were some luscious strings to be heard there. However, the way in which these performances transcended the limitations of the upright pianos was creditable indeed. Pamela Hay’s Euridice was often touching, with a good sense of style. Joanna Foote’s Amor was finer still; I should be keen to hear more from her. Unfortunately, Paul Featherstone struggled stylistically and indeed intonationally as Orfeo. Nevertheless, Mark Tinkler’s direction of the characters, Furies included, held the attention throughout the various scenes. Perhaps an especial highlight was the use of claustrophobic theatre pit for Hades. Elysium, simply yet imaginatively designed upon the theatre stage itself, had a distinct sense of ‘place’ too: quite different from what had gone before and what was come. Excerpts from Die Zauberflöte and Orphée aux enfers framed the action, the former for the lovers’ wedding party at the start, the latter for curtain calls in the bar. Camden Music Service, Central Saint Martins, and EPOC deserve our praise for offering both reintroduction to and reminder of one of opera’s very greatest musical dramatists.

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