Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: L'Orfeo; la Forza del Destino

Magazine article The Spectator

Opera: L'Orfeo; la Forza del Destino

Article excerpt

L'Orfeo; La forza del destino

Bavarian State Opera, Munich Opera Festival

Rather than brave the boos and the first reprise of Frank Castorf's half-hearted Ring at Bayreuth, I decided to pay a visit to Munich and catch the last two days of its annual opera festival. Less of a festival, as one usually understands the term, than a ramping-up of activity in the final month or so of its regular season, it mixes new stagings with starrily cast revivals. I caught one of each: a new production of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo , with Christian Gerhaher in the title role, and a revival of La forza del destino that was rendered a little less starry by the last-minute illness of Jonas Kaufmann -- that's destino for you, I suppose.

There was a touch of Bayreuth nevertheless with L'Orfeo , which was performed away from the Staatsoper's main house, the Nationaltheater, in the Prinzregententheater, a 1,000-seat Jugendstil space modelled on Wagner's Festspielhaus. David Bösch's production located the action in a dreamy, trippy hippie commune in the 1970s. This might not sound promising, but it was done with such lightness of touch, imagination and economy of means that it was utterly beguiling -- and wonderfully well attuned to the supreme beauties of Monteverdi's music.

The main features of Patrick Bannwart's set were long-stemmed, oversize flowers that grew swiftly up from the stage during the prologue and, in smart and chilling counterpoint, grotesque cloth-sack figures that dangled down like elongated roots into the underworld, their blank faces brought spookily to life by Falko Herold's video projections. Props included a flower-powery camper van, a modest chariot (pulled by masked minions) for Caronte; for much of the time Euridice's simple grave lay open centre stage.

The straightforward joys of the opening act were conveyed charmingly by the mainly young cast, even if Gerhaher's Orfeo -- older and already looking a little haunted from the start -- didn't seem quite at home joining in their revels and Elvis-like strutting. Otherwise, though, he was simply superb, acting with moving sincerity and using his voice -- so beautifully, delicately projected and impeccably produced -- to heart-wrenching effect.

He was surrounded by vivid characterisations from Andrea Mastroni (Caronte), Anna Bonitatibus (Messagiera and Proserpina), Andrew Harris (Plutone) and Mauro Peter's Vietnam veteran Apollo. Anna Virovlansky was the personification of innocence as Euridice; Mathias Vidal stood out for his vitality as one of the shepherds. …

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