There was one fleeting moment in this miserable, interminably boring performance of Monteverdi’s opera when I identified with its title-character. That moment came when Orfeo, having lost Euridice a second time, sings “You enjoyed good fortune too much/Now you lament cruel fate too much”.
Yes indeed, admirers of Orfeo have enjoyed good fortune these past few months, first with Chen Shi-Zheng’s mesmerising interpretation for English National Opera and then with the English Bach Festival’s period-informed staging. Both opened up avenues of insight not only into the simplicity and sophistication of Monteverdi’s art – an apparent contradiction that exerts a quasi-spiritual force – but into its relevance to our own world, 400 years later and scarcely wiser.
Now I must lament cruel fate: Opera North, that most deserving of British regional companies, has landed itself with a veritable dog’s breakfast of a staging that, far from celebrating the power of music (which is what the Orfeo myth is all about), neuters the score and makes nonsensical theatre. With Chris Alden as director, we might have expected something “different”, but the aperçus that, very occasionally, have rewarded his reimaginings of standard works are missing here.
The tale is recast as a sado-masochistic charade at a decadent Mantuan court, self-consciously acted out by half-medieval, half-contemporary poseurs who set about binding Orfeo and Euridice with masking tape and recording the result for posterity. It is the kind of staging that draws attention to itself rather than the piece it is purporting to interpret. I hope the co-producers – Glimmerglass Opera, Norwegian Opera and Greek National Opera – recognise it as a bummer and spare their subscribers the tedium.
Opera North’s first night was indifferently played by a band trying to master period style; Christopher Moulds’s conducting sounded laborious. Anna Stéphany confusingly doubled as Euridice and La Speranza, and the other singers were poorly profiled. It was left to Paul Nilon’s Orfeo to salvage some intensity from a performance that should have been sung in English.
On tour. See www.operanorth.co.uk