As 2019 closes, Opera Queensland present their most ambitious work to date – a modern take on Christoph Gluck’s much loved opera ‘Orpheus & Eurydice’.
In this updated production, Opera Queensland has joined forces with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, and Brisbane contemporary circus company Circa, to deliver an eye-popping, visual and aural extravaganza.
Director Yaron Lifschitz has skilfully reworked this classic masterpiece, reinterpreting the setting and the story. Under his direction, the opera is set in an asylum where love, loss, and aching desire meld into one.
Within the confines of this asylum there is nothing but chaos. Orpheus’ world has been fractured by despair and endless grieving. Indeed, the entire world has gone mad. Orpheus is mad and every woman, including Amor (love) looks like Eurydice.
Having disposed of the classic narrative, Yaron has given the cast a blank page to work with and they have taken up the challenge by delivering an astonishing, emotionally charged and radical production which defies operatic tradition.
British counter tenor Owen Willetts takes the lead, giving us a passionate, vulnerable, and despairing Orpheus while Melbourne-born soprano Natalie Christie Peluso takes on two roles – playing a radiant and sometimes anguished Eurydice as well as a wonderfully tender Amor (love).
In this work, movement is just as important as the voices, which allows Circa’s team of elite acrobats to work their magic from the moment the curtain parts. We begin with Amor suspended high above the stage and as the orchestra begins she descends from the gods. She looks just like Eurydice.
While they didn’t steal the show entirely, Circa’s ensemble of eight were amazing, and their incredible feats of physicality simply jaw-dropping – to the point where their skills at times almost overshadowed the rest of the cast. Their relentless energy and innovative choreography has to be seen to be believed and credit goes to Yaron Lifschitz and his team for successfully pairing the two art forms.
Image © Iñaki Zaldua
Special mention goes to the Queensland Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Dane Lam. This 70-piece outfit were near perfect in their delivery and their sensitivity noticeable as they rendered Gluck’s beautiful score.
The 16 members of the Opera Queensland Chorus also deserve acknowledgement – their presence adding another layer to the production. Throughout the show their choral voices were superb, particularly in the scene with the Furies and later when we reach the Elysian Shades.
Central to the reworking of this classic opera is the introduction of video, where text and images are integrated into the production. While Boris Morris Bagattini’s video projections help tell the story, at times they became intrusive as the eye tended to follow the subtitles rather than the action on stage. This was particularly noticeable in Hell, where strobing lights and flickering images made viewing difficult.
Libby McDonnell’s ability as a costume designer was also evident throughout – from the drab grey uniforms worn by the asylum patients to the colourful Cossack-inspired skirts of the male dancers. McDonnell’s ability to visually transform the stage with nothing but a few yards of material is testament to her skills as a costumier, director and choreographer.
In the last act when the cast combine to deliver the dual triumph and Love and Death, the duality of love is represented by a funeral and a wedding. It is a bold, deeply moving and emotional ending and the audience were clearly impacted by its intensity.
Without giving it away, the finale is as bold as the beginning and as the lights went down, the audience erupted with cheers, whistles, foot stamping, and a unanimous standing ovation which lasted well after the curtain call. Bravo!
'Orpheus & Eurydice' plays Queensland Performing Arts Centre until 9 November.