Authentic Ormindo

3 Apr

I’m not a great fan of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. The seats are uncomfortable, the weather unreliable and the audiences irritating. The performances that I’ve seen there have been variable too. However, the creation of an indoor theatre (attempting to reproduce the one at Blackfriars, or at least something like it) was going to address at least two of the major problems: we would be protected from the weather and we would not have audiences moving around and chatting. So the collaboration between the Globe and the Royal Opera House on an unfamiliar Cavalli opera – L’Ormindo – was irresistible. I saw the performance on 2nd April.

The theatre is lovely – all wood and candlelight, with a nicely painted ceiling, a gallery and a real sense of luxury. It’s warm and welcoming. It’s also intimate – I’d be surprised if it seats as many as 500. I must get to a play there sometime.  It also struck me as perfect for this sort of opera. The orchestra (only 8 players) is placed up in the gallery, meaning that there is nothing between the singers and the audience – they can speak to us, come among us and engage. The acoustic is warm and you can hear the words.

And, praise be, they did the piece in English. Cavalli’s operas are witty, recitative-heavy pieces. They are comedies and you need to understand the words. The only other Cavalli that I’ve truly enjoyed was Jason, as done at Buxton, in a hugely witty, inventive translation by Ronald Eyre. Here, Christopher Cowell’s translation didn’t quite get that level of wit and precisions, but it did very nicely. It is so refreshing to be in an audience where the audience is actually listening to the words and responding as they are spoken – an experience that I thought that surtitles had completely killed.  I felt this was how Cavalli wanted the piece communicated.

I’m not convinced that Cavalli is a great opera composer. The operas are amusing, enjoyable, generally quite inconsequential romps. He doesn’t have the gift that Montiverdi has of contrasting scenes effectively or providing music that goes straight to the heart of the piece. They need to be done sympathetically and given a bit of help.

I thought that Kasper Holten pretty much got the atmosphere and ambience of the piece perfectly. He played the piece straight with no glosses, allowing the singers to act, to engage with the audience, express the ridiculousness of the situations. He caught the balance between artificiality and real emotion really well. He was assisted by some fabulous costumes and a really good young cast.  This struck me as his most successful production so far and suggested a real talent for this sort of intimate, baroque opera.

The opera is about Ormindo and Amidas who have fallen in love with Erisbe, the wife of King Ariademus. Amidas has jilted Sicle who, together with her nurse, disguised as gipsies come to find out what’s going on. You can guess the rest. The cast also includes the obligatory servants, a general and prologues to each act from gods and goddesses. The music is not that memorable – there are a couple of nice duets for the lovers (and some interesting chromatics in the prison scene) and some nice cheeky arias for the lesser characters. It moves swiftly and, in Holten’s production, doesn’t flag.

Samuel Boden and Ed Lyons make a strong handsome pair as Ormindo and Amidas. Boden apparently was ailing, but he sang strongly and convincingly. Lyon, as the slightly more ridiculous one, caught the arrogance of the character well. Susanna Hurrell was a lovely, capricious Erisbe and Joelle Harvey a tender Sicle. James Laing almost stole the show as the servant Nerillus -permanently bewildered but he had very strong competition from Harry Nicoll as the Nurse, Eryka, and Rachel Kelly as Mirinda. Ashley Riches was strong as Osman, the captain of the Guard and Graham Broadbent was nicely geriatric Ariademus.

Christian Curmyn conducted the orchestra of the Early Opera Company really well, making sure that words were heard and that the score came across.

The audience, listened, laughed and applauded hugely at the end and I thought this made for a really good evening. I do hope there are more collaborations of this sort – the theatre suits this sort of opera really well. The next one is at the Round House but it would be good if they were to come back here. It would work beautifully for Poppea, Jason and, perhaps some of the French baroque as well.

 

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