Review: ORFEO

Orfeo
Orfeo

BRIGHTON EARLY MUSIC FESTIVAL 2017

By Frank Horsley

At the grand old age of 410, the world's earliest opera to remain in regular performance, Claudio Monteverdi's masterwork wound up – not a little mind-blowingly – landing in the 1960s at The Old Market, Hove.

Orfeo's descent into Hell to rescue his new bride, Euridice, was given a Quadrophenia-style makeover by stage director Thomas Guthrie.

"Why not?" asked Guthrie in his programme notes. So it was at the ill-fated couple's wedding party that guests – popping purple hearts and smoking with studied insouciance – surreally twisted the night away to the groovy Renaissance sounds of the Monteverdi String Band under Oliver Webber.

The motif continued with parka-clad mod Orfeo (Rory Carver) confronting in the underworld Richard Moore's leather-jacketed, black-bearded rocker, portraying Styx ferryman Caronte.

Thankfully, it was business as usual, Orfeo's sweet singing and harp-playing sufficient to lull his enemy to sleep. He didn't have to whack him over the head with a deckchair or unleash a rousing chorus of Love, Reign O'er Me.

Joking aside, it was all good fun for cast and audience alike. Such, however, was the excellence of the singers and the beauty of their phrasing, delicious Italian enunciation and musicality that any quirky features to inject extra life and relevance into the classical myth were hardly needed.

Rising tenor star Benedict Hymas was in particularly fine voice in his several roles, as was the recent Wigmore Hall debutant, mezzo soprano Helen Charlston. Tenor Carver and sweet-sounding soprano Jenni Harper, also a delight as Musica, made a charming Orfeo and Euridice.

And it was a thrill to see and hear The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble in action, not least during the work's famous opening fanfare. Webber and BREMF's joint artistic director, Deborah Roberts, were the musical directors.