Saturday, 20 May 2017

Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at the London Festival of Baroque Music

Monteverdi L'Orfeo - Prologue
Monteverdi L'Orfeo; Matthew Long, I Fagiolini, English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble, Thomas Guthrie, Robert Hollingworth; London Festival of Baroque Music at St John's Smith Square
Reviewed by Anthony Evans on May 18 2017
Star rating: 3.5

Precise and sometimes reverential, with flashes of majesty; Monteverdi's first opera in a semi-staged performance

As part of the London Festival of Baroque Music this L’Orfeo was a semi-staged performance by Thomas Guthrie at St John’s Smith Square on 18 May 2017 with Matthew Long as Orfeo, directed by Robert Hollingworth with I Fagiolini and the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble.

Not wanting to re-rehearse old arguments here, but much has been written about L’Orfeo; what constitutes “authentic” performance, instrumentation, ornamentation and drama et. al. A myriad labels have been attached to Orfeo’s luggage describing it as a proto-opera, the first true success in the opera genre, nascent opera or even early baroque opera which only serves to cloud any spontaneous appreciation of the work.

I would prefer to think of it simply as a exquisite poem and treat it on it’s own merits. Described as a Favola (fable) in musica it’s a work full of drama and poignancy. Thomas Guthrie’s direction was restrained and efficient rather than revelatory so our attentions were concentrated firmly on the performers.


It’s a simple story largely following the Greek legend of Orpheus, who descends to Hades to persuade the gods of the Underworld to allow him to bring his dead bride, Eurydice, back to the living world.

Considering the lovely acoustic of St John’s my attempts to eschew the printed libretto failed as from where I was sitting only Matthew Long’s diction made the words audible. He clearly revelled in the language, his plangent tone and imposing presence tugging at the heart strings. There was some beautiful singing too from Clare Wilkinson (Ninfa/Prosperina) and Rachel Ambrose-Evans (Euridice). Over all though it seemed a rather low-key affair.

Diction aside, it was a precise and sometimes reverential performance with flashes of majesty that only served to leave me feeling short changed. The audience’s rapturous response probably makes mine a minority view, however I felt as if I’d seen a museum’s prize exhibit nose squished against the glass admiring the exquisite beauty but ultimately no closer to appreciating it’s true heart.
Reviewed by Anthony Evans

Monteverdi: L’Orfeo
I Fagiolini, The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble
Organ & Director : Robert Hollingworth

Matthew Long (Orfeo)
Rachel Ambrose-Evans (Euridice)
Clare Wilkinson (Ninfa/Prosperina)
Ciara Hendrick (Messaggiera)
William Purefoy (Speranza/Shepherd)
Nicholas Hurndall Smith (Apollo/Shepherd)
Greg Skidmore (Shepherd/Infernal Spirit)
Charles Gibbs (Plutone/Shepherd)
Christopher Adams (Caronte)
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