It felt apt that the Scottish Opera Young Company‘s production of Gluck’s Orfeo & Euridice was staged in Greenock as the journey down the River Styx towards the Underworld is how many locals view the similar journey towards Glasgow up the River Clyde. Certainly the backdrop used in the first act looked suspiciously familiar to those who know that part of the world.
This allusion, deliberate or otherwise, was only one of the impressive and inspired aspects in this production. If any theatre company wanted a lesson in how to make their work look spectacular, while making a little go a long way, then they need look no further. The use of colours, costume, and even cloth, were all used to tell the story simply yet effectively.
The stage was alive with blues, reds, and silver – all indicating who was who and what they signified. White veils for the wedding party, black for mourners, silver masks to hide identities, and simple ropes and drapes used as shrouds, shackles, and more. With reflective surfaces coming and going, and an ingenious use of lighting, the attention of the audience was kept throughout. You couldn’t look away for fear of missing something.
And this was apt as ‘looking’ or ‘the gaze’ is a key theme to the story of
Orfeo & Euridice. As with the myths of Narcissus, Medusa, Diana and Acteon, or even the fate of Lot’s wife in the Book of Genesis, forbidden glances, and defying deities, can only end badly. The inventive staging used this to full advantage, breaking the fourth wall by forcing the audience to become part of the performance, made aware of their own presence as blurred faces on the stage.
The other key to audience engagement was the pace that the story unfolds. There was little scene setting as wedding day quickly turns to tragedy before Orfeo begins his heroic journey to rescue Euridice. Although there were nominally three acts the storytelling felt seamless – told as concisely and precisely as possible.
Daniel Keating-Roberts’ Orfeo, (centre stage for the majority of the time), had to hold his own despite so much going on but he did so with aplomb, and the three Cupids stood out not only because of their silver suits, but because each brought a distinct personality to the role. However to single out individuals seems wrong as the whole cast, from Cupids to Chorus (and dancer Kay Davis) came together to deliver a true ensemble performance.
It was easy to forget, and indeed I didn’t give it a thought throughout, that this was the Scottish Opera Young Company on stage, and that tells you all you need to know. Suffice to say, it appears that the future of Scottish Opera is in safe hands
Further details can be found on the Company’s home page, and the most recent SWH! podcast is an interview with SOYC artistic director Jonathon Swinard where he talks about the company and his role.
You can find the podcast here, or listen below: