Garsington Opera is on a roll with an atmospheric Orfeo – review

A message came out before the first night of this Orpheus inviting the public to wear white rather than the standard black tie. The Getty Estate in Wormsley, where the Garsington Opera is based, has a renowned cricket ground, so was Monteverdi’s opera going to be staged as a match with everyone in cricket white? Maybe Orfeo could be a beater for a duck and sent to hell as punishment.

In this case, that was not the plan. John Caird’s beautiful and atmospheric production, designed by Robert Jones, begins with an idyllic country scene, where barefoot singers, dancers and musicians, all dressed in white, come together on stage, as if in a community of innocence.

This is another solid production to kick off the summer opera festival season. After Glyndebourne’s invigorating Ethel Smyth cover The Wreckersfrom Garsington Orpheuswhich has the expert English Concert as its instrumental ensemble, is among the best.

Lauren Joyanne Morris (Proserpine) and Ossian Huskinson (Pluto) © Julian Guidera

Simple is good in this first opera that we see regularly today. The Arcadian vision of youths frolicking around a pond greets the audience as they enter the theatre. It’s the beginning of a journey where white clothes gradually turn black. As Orfeo soars into the underworld, the gates of hell open and the welcoming pond turns into the hellish waters of the River Styx. Charon transports his passengers in a funeral boat, made up of three women in black. How easy it can be to create magic even on an open stage, if there is the imagination to do so.

An interesting feature of the production is how the singers and dancers merge into one company. That includes Ed Lyon in the title role, who frolics and pirouettes with the best of them. Drawing on his experience in this repertoire, he composed a strong Orfeo, not always soft, but drawing from the Italian text the widest possible range of passion and tragedy.

Surrounding him is an attractive cast, led by Zoe Drummond’s sweet Eurydice. Ossian Huskinson makes a sepulchral-voiced Pluto, god of the underworld, and it’s good to hear Diana Montague still ringing in a fresh voice as the Messenger.

One last surprise awaits you. At the end, conductor Laurence Cummings leaves his position as harpsichordist and takes the stage to sing Apollo. (He’s not the first to do it: the late Anthony Rolfe Johnson, a supreme Orfeo in his day, performed the same double act when he was conducting a production at the Opera Theater in St. orchestra while the opera Deus Ex machine.)

After a scintillating Rosenkavalier last year, Garsington seems to be on a roll. Offstage, the big ambition is the new arts centre, providing rehearsal studios and performance space for community work. Half of the funds have been raised and building work has begun, as Garsington Opera lays a permanent foundation for its future.

★★★★☆

As of July 3, garsingtonopera.org

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