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REVIEW: Orpheus at Newcastle Theatre Royal

Opera North: Orpheus

Newcastle Theatre Royal

Saturday 5 November 2022

Ashnaa Sasikaran as Eurydice and Nicholas Watts as Orpheus 

A fusion of cultures ensured that this unique project is like no opera experience that you have witnessed before. Opera North have combined eastern influences in music and story telling with their western counterparts to produce something that is definitely different. Indeed the packed house were listening with attentiveness to the production and generous with their applause.

Based upon Claudio Monteverdi's 1607 opera L'Orfeo, this project began with Ustad Dharambir Singh meeting up with one of the musical directors Laurence Cummings. They explored the common ground and the differences in the music that Moneverdi laid out. The differences in approach, for example between formal structures and improvisation, become apparent at times but, somehow, it works musically. There are not many opera performances when it is a musician gets the applause but the percussion workout by RN Prakash in Act 2 was well worth the spontaneous applause that broke out immediately afterwards.

Yarlinie Thanabalasingam as Nambikkai (Hope). 

Leslie Traver's set design is set in the garden of a classic 1930s semi-detached house. The 19 musicians, including joint musical directors Laurence Cummings and Jasdeep Singh Degun, are on the raised beds around the edge of the garden. As the show begins two goddesses of music, Sangeet (Deepa Nair Rasiya) and La Musica (Amy Freston)invite the audience to the marriage of Eurydice (Ashnaa Sasikaran) to Orpheos (Nicholas Watts). The guests: nymphs and shepherds, arrive and the celebrations begin. 

Dean Robinson as Pluto and Chandra Chakraborty as Proserpina 

Before the night of festivities is over Silvia (Kezia Bienek) turns up to convey the bad news that the bride has died after a snake bite. Mortified by this Orpheus heads off to the gates of Hades to seek out his bride and is confronted by Caronte the ferryman (Kaviraj SIngh). Singh is wonderful in his role as the one to prevent the mortal one from crossing the river. The injection of humour into the role lifted the tone of the second act. The singing by Orpheus sends Caronte to sleep and he seizes his chance to enter the Underworld. Proserpina (Chandra Chakraborty) and Pluto (Dean Robinson) agree a compromise for Eurydice to leave and to return but things don't go to plan. 

Kaviraj Singh as Caronte and Nicholas Watts as Orpheus. 

The original tale is based upon ancient Greek legend and the insertion o the eastern influences - both for the storytelling and the music - makes for an interesting piece. But should you seek the show out? That is a tricky one as it isn't like anything else. With most shows a reviewer can say "if you like this then you'll probably enjoy that". This one is different. The performances from all involved were excellent - helped by putting the musicians in clear view rather than hiding in the pit. The fusion has generated something unique but you'll only know if it is your cup of tea if you saw it for yourself. Certainly the audience and I had a good night at the theatre.

Review: Stephen Oliver

Photos: Tristram Kenton

Opera North return in March 2023 with The Cunning Little Vixen, Tosca and Ariadne auf Naxos - details

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