ORFEO ED EURIDICE / ZANETTO, Arcole Exterior
Orfeo succumbs to the temptation and turns to kiss his wife, Euridice, and so the gods demand their price for his failure to keep his end of the bargain, as she dies and he despairs.
Christoph Willibald Gluck‘s Orfeo and Euridice is a familiar story, but it gained in intensity during the Covid era as people around the world have to keep their distance from loved ones under the threat of the wayward virus. Unlike Orfeo’s visual ban, it’s the hugging that the virus forbids, but the pain of distance is the same, the pain of supposed rejection (especially for some older people) misunderstood, and the stakes just as high. .
Lysanne van Overbeek’s Barefoot Opera returns to Grimeborn after a two-year hiatus to embrace the two-handed boutique opera festival aesthetic. Grafted wooden crates are strewn across the stage, there is a bit of traffic noise escaping from north London and our lovers have a hipster touch from Dalston. Emma Roberts gets to do much of the heavy lifting as Orfeo and sings beautifully, his mezzo-soprano echoing through a somewhat ruthless acoustic space. Lizzie holmes, like Euridice, has less to do, but her soprano cut the heavy early evening tune as her tragic fate caught up with her. Thanks also to Katie Blackwell, who stepped in at short notice to give Amore a menacing, lurking presence, ready to demand the full penalty for any breach of the deal.
Grimeborn’s restrictions have always worked very well in the main Arcola theater, a tight space that lends itself to a common intensity that seeps back and forth through the fourth wall. With spaced seats and a canvas roof, the Arcola Outside tent area too easily dissipates dramatic tensions, forcing singers to act “bigger” (for lack of a better word), adding movement and lighting. to compensate for the unique circumstances of Covid Times. It may be unfair to demand such a leaching of lyrical conventions into styles of musical theater, but the impact of closeness that thrills so much when opera is sung up close and in a personal way is a rare and fragile commodity. and requires ongoing support to work to your full potential.
All this was born in the second opera on the double bill, Pietro mascagni‘s Zanetto, in which Holmes returns in a slanted evening gown as the amorous courtesan, Silvia and Roberts make this “sexy woman who vampires her as a man” schtick in the pants role as the eponymous Zanetto.
Now the intensity is set at 11 from the start, as Silvia describes her materially successful but empty life, a toy for a string of lovers who see her as an object rather than a round person with emotional and spiritual needs. . When she sees the young Chancellor, Zanetto, she is immediately struck by the sensation that he is the man who will fulfill his destiny – literally, the man of her dreams. Ironically, he’s on his way to Florence to see if he can find favor with the famous Silvia, but she never reveals his true identity, knowing that he would be doomed to the same easy life at court if she did.
It breaks your heart to see the tragedy Holmes brings to Silvia’s dilemma, especially offset by the occasional, albeit unintentional, rejections of her cautious invitations. The music (keyboards and bass under the musical direction of Lesley Anne Sammons) tells the story as much as the song, because non-lovers surround themselves without ever breaking the chasm that lies between them. Not for the first time in an opera, you fight the urge to leap forward to intervene and put them on the road to happiness.
It’s important to accept Grimeborn’s self-imposed limitations and embrace the opportunities that come with them. This double bill sees this balance tilting in both directions, but never fails to present the unique qualities of the festival’s philosophy with commitment and technical precision. As with live opera, music and song transcend space and time and amaze us in front of The Miracles forged by voices and instruments that enter and leave our senses.
Photo Peter Moule