REVIEW: “Orphee” by Philip Glass

I just love the way Opera doesn’t flinch from tackling big philosophical issues. It has the potential to wrench powerful emotions from its audience. Challenge them intellectually. Uplift them spiritually. It can be the Campest of Camp and yet still wring out a tear! It satisfies on many levels and offers what no other single art form can.

“Orphee” by Philip Glass is the final offering of the ENO’s (English National Opera’s) bold autumn season of four operas that explore different interpretations of the Myth of Orpheus. This Opera directed by Netia Jones is a groundbreaker, not least, because of the many talented women featured on the technical team. Lets hope it sets a precedent.

Philip Glass wrote this chamber opera in 1993, inspired by Jean Cocteau’s surreal classic 1950’s film of the same title. In it Cocteau depicts Orpheus as a faded narcissistic poet and examines ‘The Artist’s’ life, its successes, failures and obsessions. The films fantastically interweaved and mirrored subplot explores immortality and betrayal.

Glass uses the text of Cocteau’s film as a libretto for his opera, and footage of the original film is projected throughout, behind the onstage action. This, accompanied by Lizzie Clachan’s mainly monochrome set (occasionally punctuated by dazzling crimson) Daniella Agami’s expressive concise choreography, and Lucy Carter’s subtle, atmospheric lighting, sets the scene for an evening of terror, mystery and pathos.

Orpheus (beautifully sung by Nicholas Lester) is driven by love and regret to cross the threshold of life and death to rescue his long suffering and neglected wife Eurydice (Sarah Tynan) and also pursue his passion for the Princess of Death (a stunning ENO debut for the radiant Jennifer France) Nicky Spence’s wonderful tenor voice soothes and stimulates throughout, as chauffeur and mediator Heurtebise.

The music is sublime. A steady stream of haunting undulating melodies, that ebb and flow in and out of your consciousness as the characters on stage move between the living and the dead. This is music that truly awakens the senses. Go see it!

Until 27thNovember //  ENO Box Office: 020 7845 9300

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