Gluck’s masterpiece is the Buxton Festival’s second staged opera and can be summed a little more briefly than The Jacobin.
The first thing you see looking at the stage are letters, OEFRO, on five large slabs suspended from the flies. The opera underway, the chorus detach them and move them around the stage to create images of props or scenery over its duration. They even light up!
The five hooks holding them having ascended, 16 eventually descend on a wooden ‘clothes line’ with sets of dark garments on them which the chorus members put on over their orfeo-emblazoned t-shirts. Garbed as furies, the washing line disappears upwards.
The garments are visibly taken off, and the t-shirts, at the back of the stage for the next scene, Elysium, and the chorus is now sporting beach-wear, some of it skimpy, and smoking fags. At least some light and colour is on display (if not always gratifying) instead of the otherwise prevailing gloomy black, grey and white atmosphere.
That should give some idea what to expect in Stephen Medcalf’s darkly dramatic production. Nevertheless, it contains a lot of fussiness and added business, such as Euridice poisoning herself in the opening dumb show.
He surely cannot be the first to envisage Orpheus as a rock musician, with less certainty, as an ageing, long-haired, bearded one. A guitar-toting Michael Chance rises to the challenge of playing him and his voice is still full. There are signs, however, that this music is starting not to lie easy on it with the odd sour note and gear changes to a regularly used chest register.
The two women are excellent. Barbara Bargnesi, a girlish looking Euridice, produces first-rate singing, nowhere more so than in her recit and aria in act three. Daisy Brown, given almost continuous non-singing stage presence by Medcalf when not otherwise involved, is an outstanding Amore in every respect.
The Festival Chorus, of which she is a member, again excel and the playing of Northern Chamber Orchestra is solidly reliable, while Stuart Stratford conducts a not as-Gluck-would-have-heard-it account of the score.