Thursday, September 24, 2009

Orpheus in North County Dublin

Last night saw my first foray into the world of opera-in-cinema, as Mrs Nereffid and I went to Swords to see a live relay of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo from La Scala. Seems an appropriate choice for a first foray - I mean the fact that it's the oldest still-performed opera, not that Swords is a dark hell full of unhappy souls.
The production is a new one from Robert Wilson, and the cast includes Georg Nigl as Orfeo, Roberta Invernizzi as Eurydice and Music, and Sara Mingardo as the Messenger and Hope, with Rinaldo Alessandrini conducting (not sure if it's Concerto Italiano - they seem to have gone uncredited). I wish there were a few more pictures of the production on the web, but you get a rough idea from this little one, which is the set for the first part. These are the nymphs and shepherds, striking various sort of Mannerist poses. That was the general style for the whole production, which I gather is not surprising from Wilson: basic sets, with significant use of lighting. Everything was very static: the performers moved in slow motion and most of their physical expression came from (gloved) hand gestures. The second part was even more basic than the first - the underworld was mostly a black backdrop, Orfeo and Hope being lit by spotlights and Charon appearing initially as a silhouette against a blue panel. We both thought the whole thing was wonderful, very much an experience rather than just a spectacle. It always fascinates me how people criticise films and such with "it was slow". Well, you could call this production very slow, but that was what made it so compelling.
Musically, of course, it was wonderful too. Alessandrini made an acclaimed recording of L'Orfeo a couple of years ago, so there were no fears about his contribution. The only major solo role is that of Orfeo; he doesn't actually have much to do in the first part, whereas he wholly dominates the second. Austrian baritone Georg Nigl, a singer previously unknown to me, was totally convincing, and his "Possente spirto" was a real show-stopper. The two others that I thought stood out were Sara Mingardo's Messenger (she got some of the warmest applause at the end) and Luigi De Donato's imposing Charon.
So, a great night. But get this: Aside from the two of us, there were four other people in the cinema! Seriously. OK, it was a Wednesday night, and it's not Puccini, but still. What on earth to make of this? Was the show just not advertised adequately? Were music lovers simply unaware of its existence? I always scan the cinema schedules in the paper on a Saturday, which was where I found out about it. I'm assured by my parents that opera-in-cinema performances are always well attended in Dungarvan, for Christ's sake, so what's north Dublin's excuse? Were all the cultured elite in Dundrum instead? I'm absolutely mystified.

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