Review: Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice

Daniel Matore 29 April 2012

Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice

Clare College Chapel until Sat 28th April 2012


Having found operas at Cambridge somewhat disappointing due to the unforgiving acoustics of West Road Concert Hall or King’s College Chapel where they are often held, the voices of chorally adept but operatically lacking singers floundering, I approached CCMS’s opera with a degree of scepticism. However, with a uniformly strong cast and the inspired choice of the intimate and resonant Clare Chapel, such scepticism was ill-deserved. Above all, this production was a triumph of space.

Thrillingly close, the orchestra nestled behind the audience and in front of the altar, under the confident baton of Musical Director Patrick Milne, produced lithe, responsive and expertly textured playing, each shade of plangent brass or bucolic woodwind coming to the fore. Never static, the soloists moved in time with their parts. Oliver El-Holiby was a balletic Orpheus, his poised and expressive movements reinforcing his judiciously sculpted phrasing. Likewise, as Love incarnate, Heloise Werner blossomed with mercurial restlessness, her agile and rich singing never compromised by a commitment to fully act out the part. Judith Lebiez, though overusing the vibrato a touch, was a dark-hued and daringly frail Eurydice. Bravely, the soloists came as close as possible to the audience, so that Orpheus leant abjectly over the tiered pews in front of us, before fatally (or not so fatally in Gluck’s cheery re-writing of the legend) looking back at his damned Eurydice.

The Orphetic ideal of the lone voice accompanied by a lone instrument was astutely rendered by having Eurydice’s attendant flautist walk with her on stage, bedecked a little tackily with fairy lights, closely followed by that of Orpheus processing into Elysium with the oboist right next him. The aisle of the chapel was well exploited for processions throughout, especially in the cumulative effect of the mourners filing in for the opening chorus, the spacing poignantly dispersing their voices. This narrow stage could also just accommodate a flock of Furies in beaked masks and gowns spinning around the encircled lyrist in one of the dramatic highlights of the piece – the powerful and expressively rasping singing of the chorus stunningly undulating through such spatial effects. A special mention must go to Sophie Rashbrook for engineering such enchanting choreography. The choice to sing the piece in Michael White’s English translation was a little futile given much of the words were not enunciated forcefully enough to come through, however that was a minor fault in brilliant production which should encourage other opera companies to utilise the smaller chapels of Cambridge.

Daniel Matore