The tragedy of Orpheus and his lost love Eurydice has marked the hearts of many artists since the myth appeared in ancient Greece and showed the depths to the sacrifice for love. As Orpheus travels through the underworld to retrieve his lover, the power of art and music overcomes even death and shows us the importance of being an artist and lover. In the myth he loses his wife to death once more by the superiority of Hades, but in Christoph Willibald Gluck’s tragic opera love is at the mercy of the gods and survives all. For Gluck, love is the ultimate story of humanity and it requires the ultimate language of art – a mesmerising marriage of music and dance, ritual and emotion.
Orphée et Eurydice opens the season at the Royal Opera House with a most heartfelt combination of music and dance – Conductor John Eliot Gardiner majestically leads the English Baroque soloists, the Monteverdi Choir and the cast of three make the music flourish, and Hofesh Shechter’s innovative dance troupe move with such spirit the piece soars beyond the myth. It becomes a celebration of life and something that makes your heart swell from the very start. And weep a little bit, if you’re anything like me.
Conor Murphy’s design is simplistic with the orchestra onstage throughout. At first this seems a distraction but the stage machinery is so cleverly constructed it moves up and down, creating a constant movement in narrative and scenic imagery as magical as the mysteries of the underworld. This simplicity seems to be the lifeblood of the production – it allows the music its rightful emphasis, the chorus their emotional and vocal resonance and the dancers a bare environment they can transform.
The motifs of the dances throughout are painfully effective, beautiful and seem like a ritual of lament at times, a celebration of love at others. The production seems incredibly fluid as dancers, chorus and soloists merge with one another throughout, creating a performance that is unified, powerful and honest. Juan Diego Flórez’ Orphée is sung with riveting passion and as the mythical figure his voice travels directly to the heart where it resonates throughout the night. Amanda Forsythe’s Amour and Lucy Crowe’s Eurydice both move and entertain with their beautiful vocals, and this cast of three is so effortlessly on-point that the performance is a pure joy.
Directors Hofesh Shechter and John Fulljames have created a production that marries the most beautiful disciplines with such fluidity and heart that Orphée et Eurydice will most definitely affect many of its audiences. It’s one of those rare theatrical experiences that makes your heart expand, leaving you feeling apart of the production somehow. An innovative, engaging performance you must see.
Orphée et Eurydice is playing at the Royal Opera House until 3 October. For tickets and more information see the Royal Opera House website. Photo by Bill Cooper.