New London Consort
The New London Consort's production of Monteverdi's opera "L'Orfeo," directed by Jonathan Miller, wisely abstained from attempting to recreate baroque-style stage conventions or realism of any kind.
It was not a trendy minimalist performance, but an honestly minimal one, leaving the situation entirely to the spectators' imagination. Superfluous, period-related elements were discarded, and consequently the audience's interest focused on the plot, the text and the music itself.
This was Miller's way of bringing the 400-year-old opera to vibrant life and close to the sensibilities of a present-day audience. The vivid and meaningful performance brushed away the antiquated dust of academic early music revivals. Above all, the music, gestures, movement and expression were perfectly stylized, creating a refined as well as impressive quality of the presentation.
The singing, mostly recitative rather than melodic, refrained from being overly emotional, yet nevertheless placed emotive emphasis on words and phrases that required it. This approach made the rendition poignantly intense and dramatic without gliding into melodrama or theatricality.
As Orfeo, Mark Tucker's warm, sonorous baritone sounded profoundly moving as he begged to return to his beloved. Simon Grant's forceful bass-baritone, as Caronte, had a credibly menacing expression. One could easily understand why Michael George's authoritative bass-baritone as Plutone could not resist Joanne Lunn's lovely soprano as Proserpina. And one could, likewise, sympathize with Orfeo's love for Revital Raviv's charming soprano as Euridice.
The period instruments sounded delicate and appealingly alive and animated under the inspiring direction of Philip Pickett.
An early baroque opera, sometimes regarded as a dry, old-fashioned matter, turned out to be a fascinating, immensely enjoyable experience.