Some operas work very well in concert form; after all, without what are sometimes clunky sets and absurd plots, you can just focus on the music and the singing at the core of the piece. It can also be argued that the best singers singers can create drama even on a bare stage. Sadly, Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice struggles without the theatricality fully-produced operas are known for.
In spite of being seen as a key work in the development of opera – moving the art form towards a more dramatic style – Orfeo ed Euridice is a pretty static piece of work, with only three main characters and a back-up chorus. Staged productions of the 18th-century opera often comprise colourful sets and dance, giving the work more substance and variety. Having only the music and singers to focus on, the opera itself becomes rather thin.
This is not aided by the casting of a countertenor in the role of Orfeo. This is not a comment on Iestyn Davies‘ vocal capabilities, for he is undoubtedly a very good singer and demonstrates this throughout the performance. That said, his voice feels over-exposed on the concert stage. This is not the first time Gluck’s original arrangement has been played with; while the original was written for a castrato, we have become accustomed to mezzo-sopranos singing the role – notably Kathleen Ferrier and Janet Baker. Still, the famous aria Che Faro doesn’t have the same impact when performed by a countertenor. Occasions where the performers attempt to add drama to their performances are inconsistent and feel overwrought, begging the question whether a stage director was involved in the production.
Despite these faults, there are many redeeming qualities to the production. Opposite Davies, Sophie Bevan sings beautifully as Euridice, and Rowan Pierce plays an excellent Amor. Better still, the stars of the evening are conductor Bernard Labadie, a baroque expert, and The English Concert, whose lovely playing is backed up nicely by the English Concert Choir.