Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Orfeo ed Euridice / Dido and Aeneas review – double bill brings twice the joy in Hampshire

9 June 2023


The Grange Festival doubles down with innovative staging and excellent singing.

Orfeo

Heather Lowe (Photo: Craig Fuller)

One work celebrates the power of love and the central place of music and poetry in our lives, the other shows the workings of malignant forces which culminate in the heroine’s death. Can they be linked together, and even duplicate their forces? The answer from the Grange Festival is a triumphant “Yes!” and from the ecstatic audience, ‘Haven’t enjoyed myself at the opera so much in years!”.

The Grange Festival has put together the perfect combination of forces to bring these works to life, first amongst them being the Orchestra of the Sixteen, conducted by Harry Christophers. From the celebratory ‘wedding’ music which heralds the story of Orpheus, to the mournful chorus after Dido’s suicide, this intimate band held the narratives together with buoyant playing and provided collaborative support for the singers.

Orfeo

Alexandra Oomens & Heather Lowe (Photo: Craig Fuller)

Double casting of singers is only possible when you have real stars to deploy, and in Heather Lowe the company has a treasure. She was superb in the 2021 La Cenerentola, and here she displays her versatility as a somewhat preppy Orpheus and, in complete contrast, a ‘wrecked from the outset’ celebrity Dido. Her singing of ‘Chiamo il mio ben cosi’ was beautifully phrased, and ‘Che faro senza Euridice’ was full of longing. Her incarnation as a celebrity Dido was brilliantly done, with the final lament genuinely moving.

Her Euridice and Belinda were sung with fluent ease and lovely tone by Alexandra Oomens, making a notable company debut. Visually a dead ringer for the actress Florence Pugh, she exuded confidence both as a feisty wife and an enabling aide to her celebrity queen. Caroline Blair had a similar success as Amore and the second woman, her entrance raising laughs from this fairly staid audience, and Helen Charlston was another house debutant scoring a notable triumph; we loved her daring singing as the Sorceress, and the costume department had really gone to town in emphasizing her height and bearing.

“The Grange Festival has put together the perfect combination of forces to bring these works to life…”

The role of Aeneas is seldom a happy one, but James Newby made it his own, his warm baritone exuding sincerity. The smaller roles of First Witch, Second Witch and Sailor were taken with real commitment by Kirsty Hopkins, Katy Hill and George Pooley respectively – we especially enjoyed the last’s camp little cameo.

Dido

Helen Charlston (Photo: Craig Fuller)

The five dancers – Hayley Chilvers, Electra, Fiona Macbride, Blair Moore and Holly Saw, deserve special mention for their superbly executed routines, choreographed by Tim Claydon. The Video designs by Nina Dunn for PixelLux provided stunning backgrounds to the action.

Daniel Slater’s production and Robert Innes Hopkins’ designs worked brilliantly, aided by Johanna Town’s delicately lambent lighting designs. The contrasts inherent in the two works are finely shown. In Orpheus, the lovely sunlit celebrations give way to the superbly evocative regions of the damned, and in Dido the garish trappings of the ‘slebs’ are vividly done.

Special praise must go to the Grange Festival Chorus, trained by Tom Primrose to an exacting level; producing such wonderful singing whilst executing so many costume changes and complex movements is a truly exceptional achievement.

The performance was dedicated to the late James Bowman – he would have absolutely loved it.

• Details of upcoming performances can be found here.


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Orfeo ed Euridice / Dido and Aeneas review – double bill brings twice the joy in Hampshire
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