United Kingdom Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice: Soloists, Orchestra of Scottish Opera, The Chorus of Orfeo ed Euridice / Kenneth Montgomery (conductor), Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 7.3.2015 (SRT)
Orfeo – Caitlin Hulcup
Euridice – Lucy Hall
Amor – Ana Quintans
Director/Choreographer – Ashley Page
Designer – Johan Engels
Lighting Designer – Mark Jonathan
Ashley Page used to run Scottish Ballet, so it was no surprise that dance should play a big part in his production of Orfeo. What did surprise me was that it was only so intermittently successful. Only in the Elysian Fields, with a graceful, flowing Dance of the Blessed Spirits, did Page’s delicately understated choreography fit either the mood of Gluck’s music or the temperature of the story. The guests at Euridice’s funeral seemed more interested in angular posturing than mourning, while the contemporary jive of the final scene seemed rather anachronistic in the context of the black and white formal dress code. Worst of all was the Dance of the Furies, with the dancers kitted out in red bin bags and illuminated helmets that made them look uncomfortably like Jawas from Star Wars. Even more bizarre was his direction of the chorus in that scene, more like confused stoners than terrifying monsters.
If there was one thing that did work about his production then it was his carefully differentiated aesthetic for each scene. The opening scene was funereal black, moving to a red-hued Hades populated by a gang of steampunkers. The Elysian Fields resembled a hippy commune, while the long duet between Orfeo and Euridice took place in a dark, bare stage which underlined their isolation and their terrible emotional vaccum. Against all of this, Orfeo’s white suit made him stand out as the only independent participant in the scene, underlining his role both as agent and observer.
Johan Engels’ set design consisted of a huge perspex cube, open at one end, with indications of shattered glass that suggested the destruction of Orfeo’s world. However, it seemed to speak more of Scottish Opera’s straitened finances than of great artistic vision, as there was seldom much else on stage. Trying to make something out of that one device brought a rather large degree of overacting, with lots of anguished poses against the walls. But what else did the singers have to do? Page’s one attempt to create something more dynamic brought the chaos of the Furies scene that left me at first confused and then a little bored.
It is to her credit that Caitlin Hulcup was able to rise above all this and provide a genuinely moving interpretation of the title role. Her range was extremely impressive, penetrating at the top and characterful at the bottom, using the whole span of her voice to inhabit the character’s emotions and problems, particularly impressive in the scene where she tamed the Furies. Lucy Hall’s Euridice was pure-voiced and bright, very impressive in the duet and well contrasted with Hulcup. I wasn’t so keen on Ana Quintans, geared out like a glamorous Grace Kelly, but lacking security in the voice and occasionally missing pitch in her aria.
Still, if ultimately the show was a bit of a hotch-potch, at least it was a decent attempt at a collaboration. Scottish Opera has done too-much-too-safe recently, and I hope that seeking artist from other genres, like Page with his background in dance, might provide some stimulus for their future growth.