Magazine article The Spectator

Inflaming Hearts

Magazine article The Spectator

Inflaming Hearts

Article excerpt

Opera

Orfeo; Greek (Barbican)

Monteverdi's Orfeo is an intensely moralistic work. Although La Musica launches it by telling us, and showing us, how `now with noble anger, now with love' she can inflame the coldest hearts, there are warnings about the dangers of feeling too much: `Orfeo conquered Hell but met defeat from his own tenderness.' This first great, very great opera is a Humanist statement, that we should live life to the full, and that our resources are impressive enough to triumph over forces that seem stronger than we are; but that the forces which are most likely to defeat us lie within us, and that only by giving expression to an inchoate mass of energies will we succeed in achieving - well, whatever we can achieve. The librettist Alessandro Striggio evidently ran out of ideas at this point, and Monteverdi was content to follow him, for surely no masterpiece ends more lamely than this one, with Apollo's promise to Orfeo, gratefully accepted, of eternal life with Euridice as a constellation.

At the Barbican the semi-staged performances with Le Concert d'Astree under their creatrice Emmanuelle Haim went most of the way to realising the indeterminate potential of the piece. The large amount of spare space round the singers and players was used intelligently, with shepherds welcoming one another, La Musica herself arriving through the back door, and in the radiant person of Carolyn Sampson (also Euridice) moving down until she had explained what her capacities are, and forbidden natural forces to interfere with her art. By then we had heard that this was to be a buoyant, colourful, rhythmically incisive, above all free-flowing account of Monteverdi, neither lush in the way that was once necessary to gain him a foothold, nor austere, even pleasure-forbidding, in the mode of the authenticists of 30 or fewer years ago. No sense of listening to this as the revival of an archaic art-form lingered even vestigially. Haim - or Emmanuelle as the programme insists on calling her - loves, is possessed by this music, undulates to it, moves from the keyboard to conducting and back again as if she were not only in charge of the proceedings, but playing all the instruments, breathing with all the singers.

Only my reactions to the Orfeo of Ian Bostridge were ambivalent. He was eloquent, rapt, he made the fullest use of the plangency which characterises the role and which is, I suppose, his speciality. But his range is limited. I find, as Dr Johnson did with Milton, that, `No mirth can, indeed, be found in his melancholy; but I am afraid that I always meet some melancholy in his mirth. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.