Buxton celebrates Gluck’s 300th
July 15, 2014
The Guardian by George Hall
3 out of 5
With few exceptions, the UK’s leading companies are celebrating the 300th birthday of Cristoph Willibald Gluck with total silence. Buxton, honourably, steps up to the mark with a new production of his most popular work in its original Italian-language version of 1762.
Designed by Francis O’Connor, Stephen Medcalf’s staging is not the first to suggest a connection between the status of Orpheus as the iconic singer of Greek mythology and the modern rock star. Here countertenor Michael Chance becomes singer-songwriter Orfeo, who is giving a concert before his adoring fans when his wife, Euridice, dies of a drug overdose. Amore (alias Cupid) remains on stage throughout Orfeo’s journey into the underworld, where the singer’s persuasive vocal powers enable him to regain Euridice, only to lose her again by breaking the divine injunction not to look at her, and then – by special dispensation – finally seeing her brought back to life a second time for the obligatory happy ending.
Amore is entrancingly sung by soprano Daisy Brown, whose quality is matched by Barbara Bargnesi’s emotionally wounded Euridice. More problematic is Chance’s vocalism in the central role of Orfeo, who rarely leaves the stage. Time has been relatively kind to his voice, but there are repeated rough patches in pitching and tonal steadiness. On the plus side, Chance retains the presence – vocal as well as physical – to dominate the evening, as he must.
Stuart Stratford conducts a clean and tidy performance of the inspired score, which sees both the Northern Chamber Orchestra and the young Buxton Festival Chorus on excellent form, the latter delivering Paula O’Reilly’s choreography with apparently spontaneous informality.