Tragic yet up­lift­ing, this opera looks won­der­ful and sounds even bet­ter

Scottish Daily Mail - - It’s Friday! Edinburgh Special - Tom Kyle

THERE is al­most al­ways an ar­gu­ment – some­times fairly heated – over the re­spec­tive strengths of opera and bal­let at the In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val.

In re­cent years, opera has cer­tainly held the up­per hand; and tra­di­tional grand opera at that, against an un­com­pro­mis­ingly con­tem­po­rary ar­ray of some­times or­di­nary, oc­ca­sion­ally worse, dance per­for­mances.

This year seems to be no ex­cep­tion, though the opera on this 70th an­niver­sary of the Fes­ti­val seems even more tra­di­tional, grander and bet­ter than ever.

We started with a truly mag­nif­i­cent Walküre, fol­lowed by a very fine pro­duc­tion of Don Gio­vanni.

Now that storm­ing start has been fol­lowed up with a beau­ti­ful, lyri­cal, tragic yet up­lift­ing con­cert per­for­mance of what I sup­pose we must call the most tra­di­tional opera of all – L’Or­feo by Clau­dio Mon­teverdi.

Given its pre­miere in Man­tua, where the com­poser was di­rec­tor of the court mu­si­cians of the rul­ing Duke Vin­cenzo Gon­zaga, in 1607, it was the first great op­er­atic mas­ter­piece and the ear­li­est opera still per­formed on a rea­son­ably reg­u­lar ba­sis.

Now it has been per­formed at the Fes­ti­val as the open­ing work of a se­ries of three Mon­teverdi op­eras.

Also in­clud­ing Il Ri­torno D’Ulisse in Pa­tria and L’In­coro­n­azione di Pop­pea, Mon­teverdi 450 is al­most a mini fes­ti­val within the Fes­ti­val, cel­e­brat­ing the 450th an­niver­sary of the com­poser’s birth in 1567.

Right at the start of L’Or­feo, a fig­ure called La Mu­sica (in this pro­duc­tion, Czech so­prano Hana Blazikova) tells the au­di­ence, ‘I am Mu­sic’ as she ex­plains to them what kind of an en­ter­tain­ment they are about to see and hear. Clearly, this not some­thing sub­se­quent com­posers felt com­pelled to in­clude – but at the start of the first great opera, one can hardly ar­gue with it.

Miss Blazikova also sang Euridice, the won­drously beau­ti­ful bride-to-be of L’Or­feo who was so cru­elly taken from him when bit­ten by a snake while gath­er­ing flow­ers on their wed­ding day.

In com­mon with most of the rest of the cast, she was su­perb. Her lovely, plain­tive voice a de­light to lis­ten to, she was also as beau­ti­ful as her char­ac­ter.

IKNOW it’s per­haps a lit­tle un­fair to ex­pect an opera singer nec­es­sar­ily to look like a clas­si­cal beauty but on oc­ca­sions such as this it does help.

Her L’Or­feo, Pol­ish tenor Krys­tian Adam, was ap­par­ently not feel­ing his best. Be­fore the start of the per­for­mance, a stage an­nounce­ment told us he was suf­fer­ing from a throat in­fec­tion, but was still go­ing to sing.

Well if this was him at some­thing short of his best, I would just love to hear him sing at 100 per cent, tip-top con­di­tion.

But per­haps the best voice of the evening was that of Ital­ian bass Gian­luca Bu­ratto, who sang both Caronte, in­fa­mous boat­man of the River Styx, and Plu­tone, Lord of the Un­der­world.

He was a pow­er­ful pres­ence, both as the boat­man ‘sung to sleep’ could cross the river and as Plu­tone, pre­vailed upon to al­low L’Or­feo to res­cue Euridice from the Un­der­world by his wife Proser­pina, a shorter but beau­ti­fully judged of­fer­ing from Francesca Bon­com­pagni.

It is not her fault that tragedy lies ahead, but that of the man with the golden lyre, who can con­quer all Hell but not him­self. The prin­ci­pals are more than ably sup­ported by the Mon­teverdi Choir, founded by John Eliot Gar­diner as part of the pe­riod in­stru­ment move­ment of the 1960s.

The re­ally rather won­der­ful mu­sic came cour­tesy of another of Gar­diner’s cre­ations, the English

Baroque Soloists, founded in 1978.

It can be a lit­tle strange to hear the sound of sack­buts, chi­tar­roni, recorders and dul­cians in a 21st cen­tury orches­tra, but this sound is unique. The en­tire pro­duc­tion was su­perbly mar­shalled by Gar­diner him­self, con­duct­ing in the, well, rather baroque style that is his very own.

This re­ally is the sort of thing for which we have an In­ter­na­tional Fes­ti­val.

Fast but not fu­ri­ous: Dancers in Yo Car­men

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