This is the first production in an Opera North season devoted to Orpheus, and why not! There is no mention of his being in The Underworld, probably because they knew that the Tubes were on strike.
A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice is a prequel to Orpheus by Monteverdi, who is generally credited with the invention of opera. Not a bad entry on your cv. The main version begins on the wedding day of the two lovers, whereas this piece is set at their engagement party before flashing back to their meeting after a show in which they were both performing.
The production is the latest in a series of pop-up opera-related works aimed, as are my writings, at those with little, or no, previous experience of the genre. To make things even more accessible, there is a mixture of musical styles with a spoken narrative and a bucketload of comedy thrown in. Beware, most of the jokes are old favourites and as corny as your granny’s feet, but totally in keeping with the feel-good atmosphere of the evening.
It is a joint effort between Opera North and South Asian Arts-UK, with a mash-up of Scottish folk music, South Asian songs and jazz thrown in for good measure. As a rule I am not a great fan of opera singers who try to break out from their own discipline, but the brilliant Nicholas Watts, who is a mainstay of these pop-up events, gets it just right, I was surprised to see that he is no slouch on the violin either. He played Orpheus, with the incredible Ashnaa Sasikaran as Eurydice. I don’t mean to be shallow (I don’t mean to be, I just am!) but not only is she a wonderful singer but devastatingly beautiful as well. If only I were 50 years younger – she probably still wouldn’t want anything to do with me.
Mr Watts began with a rendition of Will Ye Go Lassie Go (The Wild Mountain Thyme) which also ended the show and gave it great poignancy, especially if you have done your homework, as I did, honest sir, and know what is to come in the main opera.
The singers were accompanied by Kavi Pau on keyboards and Mendi Singh on tabla. Mr Pau also played the part of a bus driver who, shall we say, was not the sharpest knife in the kitchen, adding even more humour to the piece.
As well as the folk and South Asian songs, which Ms Sasikaran performed in, what I was reliably informed to be, Tamil and Hindi, there were duets with Nicholas Watts singing in English. The harmonising was stunning as was the interweaving of the two languages. One of them, set in a club called Hades, OK, they did refer to The Underworld, was a sort of cabaret jazz piece which worked superbly well, as did an aria from the main opera which saw Orpheus singing in Italian to Eurydice’s Tamil, just to confuse me even more. No challenge there, mate!
The evening was a wonderful tonic in today’s angst-filled world with the fusion of cultures and styles melding seamlessly together to give a sense of hope and wellbeing. In a way it was a shame that it only lasted for about fifty minutes, but added weight to the saying that you should always leave them wanting more.
Anyone who does want more, even you Oliver, can catch this show as it tours venues between Leicester and Newcastle. There are two dates in Leeds at Slung Low and the University, as well as other Yorkshire ones in Hull, Bradford and York.
The show was Directed by Simone Ibbett-Brown with Assistant Director Jaz Manville and Designer Hannah Sibai.
For further information on this show, the other performances in the Orpheus season, venues and bookings please go to https://www.operanorth.co.uk/whats-on/tale-of-orpheus-eurydice/
All photographs by Stan Graham