Opera + Classical Music Reviews

Orpheus and Eurydice @ Blackheath Halls, London

14,16,17,19 July 2009

Bellini’s Norma and Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice may not appear to have a lot in common. However, both operas have inspired scores, each is crowned with an aria much more famous than the rest and, surprisingly, neither is performed that often.

This year Norma has had a couple of outings and it’s good to see Gluck’s 1762 masterpiece given as Blackheath Halls Opera’s ambitious annual community project. With Carmen and La boheme behind them, the enterprising management have taken a leap into slightly less familiar territory this year and pulled it off magnificently.

The three excellent professional principals Wendy Dawn Thompson as the backward-looking hero, a slinky Jane Harrington as Amor and Mary Nelson as demure Eurydice are joined by a large chorus drawn from the local community, including several schools, one for special needs youngsters.

The adult chorus is particularly impressive in the gorgeous second act finale and, boosted by the children, rousing in the closing ensemble, when love triumphs and the tragic duo are reunited.

Aaron Marsden’s set, a square sliced diagonally, with orchestra filling the front triangle and stage behind, allows director Elaine Tyler Hall to paint some masterly pictures. Tyler Hall, who recently deputised for the absent Abbas Kiarostami on ENO’s Cos fan tutte, marshals her forces well, seemingly inspired by Robert Carsen’s black-on-black staging of the same composer’s Iphigenie en Tauride at Covent Garden a couple of seasons ago. Certainly, both productions have an austere beauty.

The orchestra, again local amateurs plus some students from Trinity College of Music, is kept on a tight rein by Leigh O’Hara, who guides them through Gluck’s glorious melodies, with both drive and finesse. Students from the Laban Youth Dance Company are a gyrating tangle of Furies in the second act ballet.

This coming together of so wide a range of performers, both professional and amateur, in the creation of a hugely enjoyable opera event is wholly admirable. The next challenge for Blackheath Opera is surely to create a new work, in conjunction with a living composer. Whether they go this route or continue to explore the existing repertoire, this is a project that deserves continued funding and support. Bravo to all involved.

There are further performances on 17 and 19 July. Participating children are from Charlton School, Sherington Primary and Wingfield Primary (14 & 16 July) , Greenvale School, Hither Green Primary and John Ball Primary (17 & 19 July). Further details on blackheathhalls.com

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Orpheus and Eurydice @ Blackheath Halls, London