Everybody is familiar with the splendid fanfares that begin Monteverdi’s l’Orfeo, but how many of us have seen the entire opera? This rare chance to experience a performance of this pioneering work performed on authentic instruments should be grabbed with both hands. It is a treat.
The myth of Orpheus provides an ideal subject for opera – the story of a legendary musician, whose lyre could enchant and enthrall all listeners, and the challenge of expressing extreme emotions, of love and grief. There are no arias in this early opera. Monteverdi tailored the music to every individual line of Allessandro Striggio’s libretto and chose the accompanying instruments – trumpets, harp, theorbo etc – according to the effect he wanted to produce. The result is demanding but extremely intense. Dissonance, subtle modulation, and chromatic effects enrich the expressive range, The moment when the messenger arrives to tell Orfeo, still rejoicing at his wedding to Euryidice (young and vivacious soprano Aoife Miskelly https://www.operabase.com/artists/aoife-miskelly-1670/en ), that his bride is dead, is one of shattering impact.
In the original Greek myth, Orpheus was torn to pieces by the Bacchantes, putting an end to his intolerable grief and regret. Monteverdi asked Striggio to change it, so that Orfeo’s father, the god Apollo, arrives to comfort him and counsel resignation to the inevitable. Apollo, the god of music, represents harmony, order and balance, as opposed to Dionysian emotion, frenzy and abandon. It is a more philosophical and Christian conclusion.
This production, directed by Olivia Fuchs, features the distinguished Baroque ensemble La Serenissima (https://www.laserenissima.co.uk) conducted from the harpsichord by Robert Howarth, and the very demanding lead rôle of Orfeo is sung by Peter Gijsbertsen (https://www.petergijsbertsen.nl/) who appeared at Longborough last year in Carmen. In this rôle he sang with poignancy and power that transcended the centuries and made the emotions truly timeless.
The scenes in the Underworld were dominated by Pluto (sung by baritone/bass Julien Ségol (https://www.juliensegol.com/about). He has a fascinating history having left previous careers in diplomacy and as a philosophy lecturer to become an opera singer. Philosophy’s loss is opera’s gain as he has a velvety, rich voice a bit like cognac spiced with gunpowder. Implored by his Queen Proserpina (Frances Gregory https://www.francesgregory.co.uk/ ), Pluto agrees to release Eurydice, but only on conditions that Orfeo will be tragically unable to fulfill.
Longborough must be applauded for this fine production. It is a worthy follow-on to last year’s production of Francesca Caccini’s Ruggiero, and establishes this festival as one that all enthusiasts of Baroque and early music must follow keenly.
There are a few seats left, and Orfeo is running 1st-18th July. Best availability on Sunday 16th July.
Orfeo: Peter Gusbertsen
Euridice: Aoife Miskelly
Proserpina/ Messenger: Frances Gregory
Charon: Freddie Tong
Nymph: Rosie Lomas
La Musica: Caroline Taylor
Hope: Sian Cameron
Shepherd: Andrew Irwin
Apollo/ Shepherd: Seumas Begg
Shepherd/ Infernal Spirit: Nicholas Morris
Pluto/ Shepherd/ Spirit: Julien Ségol
Ensemble: Rozanna Madylus
ORCHESTRA LA SERENISSIMA
VIOLIN Adrian Chandler, Oliver Cave VIOLA Jim O’Toole Thomas Kettle CELLO Carina Drury VIOLONE Jan Zahourek THEORBO Lynda Sayce HARP Oliver Wass CORNETT Conor Hastings Richard Thomas SACKBUT Emily White Hilary Belsey BASS SACKBUT Adrian France
Founded in 1994 by violinist Adrian Chandler, La Serenissima is recognised for its outstanding recording catalogue, which is regularly featured on BBC Radio 3, Classic FM and international radio; advertising (Beats, 2022) and film (Portrait of a Lady on Fire, 2020). The group has won two Gramophone Awards: for The French Connection (2010) and The Italian Job (2017); in 2018 Vivaldi X2 topped the UK Classical Chart. Recent album Vivaldi’s Women attracted over a million streams in the first weeks of release.
La Serenissima performs across the UK and internationally. It has given the first UK performance of Brescianello’s opera Tisbe (2018) and the modern premiere of Caldara’s opera Lucio Papirio Dittatore (2019). The group offers opportunities and mentoring to young instrumentalists via Emerging Artist Chairs (launched in 2020) and has created digital outreach for Key-Stage 2 children with support from Arts Council England.
La Serenissima looks forward to celebrating its 30th Anniversary with a residency at London’s Wigmore Hall in 2024-25.
Longborough Festival Opera, Longborough, Moreton-in-Marsh, Gloucestershire GL56 0QF
Company No. 04119186 Registered Charity No. 1087303
Book online at https://lfo.org.uk/tickets
Box Office 01451 830292