Review: L'Orfeo – classy stuff and precisely what’s expected from Longborough
ONE of the pleasures of Longborough Festival Opera is the range and ambition of its creative endeavour every summer as it unerringly gives us the highest quality performances of some of the greatest music written for the stage.
This year is already going well to form, with the huge dramatic weight of Wagner’s Götterdämmerung at the beginning, followed by Donizetti’s comic opera L’elisir d’amore - a contrast with Wagner if ever there was one. And for its third production of the 2023 season Longborough produced yet another shift in gear that took us back to the very birth of opera.
L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) is the Italian master’s first work in this genre and was premiered in 1607, when composers were testing their skills with this new art form known as opera.
To say that Monteverdi perfected the genre is an understatement, since his genius was decisive in the development of music as it moved from Late Renaissance to Baroque.
And it is significant that Monteverdi selected as his theme for his adventure in this new form the ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Euridice, a story that has been told and retold many times in music over the centuries, right up to the present day.
To stage this early example of opera Longborough chose 12 singers of undeniable class and no less an orchestra than La Serenissima, the UK’s leading exponent of Italian baroque music.
Conducted by the baroque and classical specialist Robert Howarth, and directed by the international theatre and opera director Olivia Fuchs, L’Orfeo was a spectacle of movement and colour as much as a rendition of agreeable sound. (For this the designer Nate Wilson, lighting designer Tim Mitchell and movement director Clare Whistler deserve more than an honourable mention.)
Peter Gijsbertsen, the Dutch tenor with occasional hints of baritone, played the part of Orfeo to lovelorn perfection. No stranger to Longborough (he’s been in Carmen and La traviata in the past) he is a singer of great expressive power.
Aoife Miskelly, the Northern Irish soprano – making her debut at Longborough – was well cast as Euridice, an early example of operatic heroines who leave this mortal life (in this case for the Underworld).
The part of Caronte, the Underworld’s ferryman, was played by the Hong Kong-born British bass-baritone Freddie Tong, who’s been in previous productions at Longborough and always makes a tremendous impression on the audience with his rich and sonorous voice.
As mentioned earlier, this was classy stuff – precisely what we’ve come to expect from Longborough over the years.
L’Orfeo opened on 11th July and ended, after five performances, on Tuesday (18th July). The final opera will be The Fairy Queen by Henry Purcell, which runs for four performances from Saturday 29th July to Thursday 3rd August.