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L'Orfeo: this wonderful performance deserves to tour internationally!

The new production of L'Orfeo by De Nederlandse Reisopera and Opera2Day is a form of total theatre in which Wagner would have licked his fingers. In her direction, Monique Wagemakers forges song, dance, music, costumes and scenery into an inseparable whole. The performance is compelling, poetic and enchanting and fits seamlessly with the stylised language with which Monteverdi introduced the genre of opera in 1607. At the premiere in Theatre Wilmink, we were glued to our seats for over an hour and a half.

Even four hundred years later, the key question in Alessandro Striggio's libretto is still palpable: how do we deal with loss? Do we sit and simmer endlessly or do we get over it and thus become a 'sadder, wiser person', to paraphrase Coleridge. Orfeo does not manage the latter. When his brand-new wife Euridice dies of a snake bite, he moves heaven and earth - literally - to bring her back from the realm of the dead.

Looking back in resentment

However, once he has weaselled the gods, he does not know how to control his emotions at the moment suprême. With one look back, he loses his lover again, this time for good. And even then he drowns in self-pity. His father Apollo calls him to order: 'Why do you linger in resentment and sorrow, do you still not know that earthly happiness never lasts forever?' Whereupon they rise to heaven together, where Orfeo can see Euridice shining among the stars forever.

The stage is empty. The only attribute is the installation 'Ego' by Lonneke Gordijn of Studio Drift, a transparent three-dimensional canvas hand-woven from 16 kilometres of gossamer threads of fluorocarbon. With the help of software controlled by the conductor, this takes on different forms at lightning speed, directly related to Orfeo's feelings. In this way, the art object represents his inner world and becomes an acting character.

Art object as acting character

Often the fabric has a cube shape, sometimes like a prison in which Orfeo is locked up, sometimes like the coffin in which Euridice is carried off. At the announcement of her death, the fabric 'jerks' and takes on a diagonal shape at lightning speed, appearing to hide anxiously in the ridge of the stage.

Nanine Linning's dynamic choreography and Thomas C. Hase's lighting design are also wonderful; Marlou Breuls' costumes are beautiful but somewhat uniform. At the opening, we see a scant white-lit, jumbled tangle of people in flesh-coloured, ribbed bodystockings. From this, La Musica rises like a Venus de Milo to announce the story of Orfeo. This is a star turn by mezzo-soprano Luciana Mancini, who also gives shape to the messenger and Proserpina with her warm, full voice.

'Square' worldview

Orfeo is the only one wearing a dashing dress - also flesh-coloured. He keeps it on throughout the performance, while the other characters in the underworld swap their costumes for dark blue long robes. This nicely symbolises his inability to adapt to circumstances: he is trapped in his own 'square' worldview. The tenor Samuel Boden has a neat diction and effortlessly sings the sometimes awkward turns Monteverdi puts in his mouth. - Even when the chorus lifts him up and carries him across the stage. Unfortunately, his voice is a little too small for the large hall.

The enchanting unity of the directorial concept is further underlined by the fact that there is no noticeable distinction between dancers and singers. The flowing movements with many graceful jumps, outstretched arms and arching bodies go hand in hand with flawlessly sung choral passages. You almost don't believe your eyes and ears; this has clearly been worked on long and hard. The only flaw is the end of the second act, when singers and dancers throw themselves into each other's arms with noisy roars, as if we are witnessing a therapeutic session to deal with heartbreak.

Subtle chitarrones

The coordination between stage and orchestra is exemplary. Conductor Hernán Schvartzman sensitively leads the baroque ensemble La Sfera Armoniosa through Monteverdi's finely chiselled language. Passages with subtle plucking of chitarrones (long-necked flutes) and warm-blooded organ sounds alternate with lively sinfonias. In these, strings and horns take the lead, creating a benevolently full orchestral sound, which parallels brilliant choral parts.

Particularly beautiful is the screeching 'regale', sounding like a hurdy-gurdy, which accompanies the implacable Caronte when he denies Orfeo the crossing to Hades. Alex Rosen, with his sonorous bass, is the ideal ferryman of the underworld and also convinces as a ghost. Also beautiful is soprano Kristen Witmer, who performs both the roles of Euridice, Hope and Echo with her pure, clear voice. Bass-baritone Yannis François is a somewhat modest Pluto, but impresses as a shepherd and ghost.

In short, this wonderful performance deserves to tour internationally. Go see it, go hear it!

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Wijbrand Schaap

Cultural journalist since 1996. Worked as theatre critic, columnist and reporter for Algemeen Dagblad, Utrechts Nieuwsblad, Rotterdams Dagblad, Parool and regional newspapers through Associated Press Services. Interviews for TheaterMaker, Theatererkrant Magazine, Ons Erfdeel, Boekman. Podcast maker, likes to experiment with new media. Culture Press is called the brainchild I gave birth to in 2009. Life partner of Suzanne Brink roommate of Edje, Fonzie and Rufus. Search and find me on Mastodon.View Author posts

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