S&H Opera review

GLUCK Orpheus & Eurydice ENO at Coliseum London 11 September 2001 (PGW)


Martha Clarke's production of Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice is revived at The Coliseum and its efforts to fill that great house put a strain on a work which is here played straight through without an interval and is all over in about an hour and a quarter. This gives opera-goers plenty of time to battle with London's transport system to get home.

The original version is used and Harry Christophers ensures a good sense of style from the ENO Orchestra, (modern instruments with added cornets and chalumeau to impart a period flavour). Alice Coote is sound, but never really moving emotionally, in the hero's role, and was careful in getting up and down on the rocks which litter the stage as required. Helen Williams, the blonde Eurydice, suggests that the lost marriage being idealised was doomed to break up anyhow, the reality of her presentation suggesting a sit-com pair who would have been quarrelling again after they got home.

For me, the show was stolen by Jeni Bern, a knowing Amor, who stagemanages the proceedings, and whose poise on stage is compelling to watch and whose diction is quite remarkable. The costuming by Jane Greenwood is generally drab, with black coats, which are discarded with relief at the end, rather as marathon runners dispose of their sponsored cloaks when they have recovered wind after the finish. The choreographer is not named and much of the movement is discordant with and distracting from the music; the eight dancers (four of each variety) move around tastefully in the Elysian Fields in the nude, looking very nice.

It was particularly hard to escape a pervading sense of triviality during this particular evening, however important the work is historically (the programme book has long essays about Gluck's reforming campaign, the versions of the opera and the Orpheus myth, perpetuated in active Orphism). Only after buying an evening paper at Charing Cross Station, and looking at it in our seats at the Coliseum just before curtain up, had we become aware of the terrorist attacks on New York & Washington that day, and their appalling magnitude.

For the record, we had been spending time exploring another tale of resurrection in a thrilling new CD + CD-ROM of Calegari's La resurrezione di Lazzaro (my hot tip for a baroque CD of the Year - Chandos Chaconne CHAN 0673), instead of being glued to the TV like most of the nation, as we would have been had we known why 11 September 2001 was a date which will be etched on our memories all our lives.

Peter Grahame Woolf

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice is in repertoire until October 2. Box office: 020-7632 8300.

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