Preview: Orpheus and Eurydice

TCS Theatre 23 April 2012

Week Zero of Easter is a difficult time to stage anything in Cambridge – performers and audiences alike suddenly becoming aware that they’ve been rather neglecting their degrees for the past two terms and perhaps choosing to put culture on the back-burner. But the Clare College Music Society have taken the ‘keep calm and think of May Week’ mentality to heart, and will this weekend be mounting an impressive production of Gluck’s opera ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ in the beautiful surroundings of Clare College Chapel. The visual design is inspired by a May Ball, and the team promises that “if nothing else, it’ll give everyone a chance to check their outfit for May Week!”

The company are determined to continue the tradition of ambitious and substantial productions of opera, not only in their grand choice of venue, but featuring a forty-five-strong ensemble cast. Leo Cairns, producing the show, told TCS, “It’s a dark fairytale. Orpheus is a classic hero, and the show is a classic love story. We’re bringing out the fantasy and the magic. The aim is to set people’s spirits high for the start of exam term!”

The piece is based on the Classical myth, in which the infatuated Orpheus attempts to rescue his beloved from the underworld without so much as a word of explanation or a kiss, or she will die again. Orpheus’s quest unfolds before a versatile and mercurial chorus, whose guises range from wedding guests, to spirits, to demons. It’s a timeless classic, with a powerful message of love’s fervour running through it, and the company are determined to make it universal: they’ve chosen Michael White’s modern English translation to aid accessibility. Director Sophie Rashbrook explains the choice: “The English translation brings this mythological story to the present day, showing the young couple’s passion – and disagreements – to be something we can all identify with,” she comments. Nonetheless, “This is the story of a man who would literally go to hell and back to see his lover again. From the first notes of the Overture to the final chord of the finale, we are transported to a world like our own, but that is full of demons and heroic deeds, as well as fairy lights and candles, where the Goddess of Love rules over all.”

Combining the traditional with the unexpected seems to be a theme – the extreme world of the characters battling the human honesty of their emotions. Oli El-Holiby, playing Orpheus, discusses how the music itself has some unexpected surprised. “Gluck chose a counter-tenor to play the role of one the most powerful figures of Greek legends,” he explains, admitting that this may surprise modern audience. He defends the choice though, asserting that: “Even though we may sound like utter “wimps”, counter-tenors are gifted with fiery levels of testosterone, certainly more than any Heldentenor!” El-Holiby also describes Orpheus as “sexy, courageous and full of emotion.”

A bold and intriguing piece, performed in one of Cambridge’s most sublime spaces, TCS doesn’t think this’ll be one to miss.

‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ plays Friday 27th – Saturday 28th April 2012 at 8pm, Clare College Chapel.

TCS Theatre