Opera Queensland and contemporary circus company Circa are joining forces to present Christoph Gluck’s much-loved opera ‘Orpheus & Eurydice’.
In this updated production, Circa’s Artistic Director Yaron Lifschitz combines Gluck’s evocative score with the vocals of British counter tenor Owen Willetts (Orpheus) and soprano Natalie Christie Peluso (Eurydice), with the Opera Queensland Chorus and eight acrobats completing the cast. Owen Willetts reflects on the show's beginnings.
“When I was approached to take the role, I was already aware of Circa’s reputation and their ability to create extraordinary cross-genre productions fusing opera and circus,” Owen says. He first played the role of Orpheus in Boston Baroque’s production almost a decade ago. “That was the first time I’d performed in America and I’d like to think I’ve matured and developed since then, so it will be interesting to revisit the role and have the opportunity to explore it in an entirely new way,” he admits.
Owen is no newcomer to circus/opera productions having worked previously with circus performers and dancers in the UK. “I’ve done a fair bit of physical theatre and worked with dancers in other productions and really enjoyed it,” Owen reflects. “So while this is on a much larger scale, it isn’t entirely new to me. We’re only two days in [at the time of the interview] and I’m already doing lifts and working on their suspensions so it will be interesting to see just how far we go in terms of the integration.”
Image © Iñaki Zaldua
Central to the reworking of this classic opera is the introduction of video, where textures, images and words are integrated into the production. Apart from adding another visual layer to the performance, it will also enable the audience to better understand the storyline which is sung in Italian. “I think it’s great to see opera using multimedia platforms. Anything that helps the audience understand and enjoy the work is a positive. The video we’re using in 'Orpheus' is beautiful and it adds a whole new dimension to the words and the movement,” he says.
Circa has been a pioneer when it comes to fusing circus with other art forms and this will be the second time they have produced a show incorporating opera. In 2015 they tackled Monteverdi’s ‘Return Of Ulysses’ in what was claimed to be a world first. In that production, roughly half of Monteverdi’s original score was used with the balance composed by Quincy Grant. In this production, Lifschitz has retained the original music with a few minor changes.
“They have shortened some sections to keep it flowing but overall they’ve maintained the integrity of the music,” Owen explains. “In this opera there’s also a lot of instrumental music, so it’s not wall-to-wall singing which leaves plenty of room to explore movement, add some tricks and have some fun with it.”
Image © Iñaki Zaldua
Owen explores the many similarities between opera and circus: “Both art forms rely heavily on creating an emotional connection with the audience. An opera singer does that with their voice and an acrobat does that with their movement so in some ways the two are closer than you think.”
While much of his career has been built on baroque music, Owen is excited by the direction opera is taking today.
“The public have a perception that opera is staid and locked in the past but if you look at it historically, opera has always been evolving and changing. In the 17th century they had incredible machinery in theatres. Trap doors in the stage and wires that reached to the gods. So yes, I’m all for introducing new technology to help tell the story. Having said that, it has to actually work and add something new to the experience and not just be there as a gimmick.”
'Orpheus & Eurydice' plays Queensland Performing Arts Centre from 24 October-9 November.