Theater an der Wien.
As per the norm, Ivor Bolton entered the pit and performed the overture three times--first as a flourish from trumpets placed near the rear of the hall, then from the Freiburger Barockorchester in the pit and then again to raise the house tabs. Katija Dragojevic's La Musica poked her head through the curtain to sing emerging barefoot in a white gown. As the curtain rose on Glaus Guth s updated production, we were clearly not in Arcadia, but gazing on Ghristian Schmidts uniset of a grand, modern-day foyer. A staircase stage left rose to meet a balcony; the landing of which led to a room. Apollo's no doubt, its three windows relaying any sign of activity with the flick of a light switch. Near the foot of the staircase lay John Mark Aimley's black-suited Orfeo. immobile. Guth's tableau presaging the protagonist's destiny
Soon, the chorus was readying for a celebration. Guth told m as much when some choristers held up a banner reading "Just married," the lone English words amid the sung Italian and German side-titles. Man Eriksmoen's entrance as Euridice was all the more conspicuous in a white bridal gown and veil. In little time, the chorus of wedding revelers, nymphs and shepherds in Monteverdi s score, were under the influence of Bacchus, and a few knelt before a phallic symbol. The party hit a low point with the announcement of Euridice's death. Yes, of all the calamities imaginable, she had been bitten by a snake, and, in the world according to Gnch, this on her wedding day.
That set the scene for the director to turn L'Orfeo into a psychological drama playing out in the mind of the protagonist, here less a musician than an anguished groom tormented by visions of his beloved. The dead Euridice reappeared on stage alone, in one scene with two bridal dop-pelgangers and in Arian Andiel's videog-raphy projected on the uniset's wall.
1'he staircase helped clarify the symbolism. When Euridice ascended, we knew where she was going. Likewise, when Orfeo fell down the staircase, we knew where he was ending up. Getting Orfeo across the river in a boat, however, proved more problematic, truth's solution? Have Orfeo walk through a door at the rear of the set, then return back on stage. Apollo was less a god than a father figure, so could easily make his entrance in a white suit on the landing. At the end. after a wedding photo. Euridice and the white-clad chorus didn't dance but walked backwards off stage, followed by Orfeo, who ended up slumped on die floor.
As Orfeo, John Mark Ainsley was a dramatic force, though his voice has a narrow bore. However, that didn't limit his expressivity or his technique, both of which were placed in high relief in a superbly sung, ornate version of "Posscntc spirito" Eriksmoen exhibited a light and clean soprano voice in "lo non diro.'" In addition to La Musica, Dragojevic was triple cast as Speranza and La Messagera. where she used her chest tones to good effect. Bass Phillip Ens was double cast as the oarsman Caronte and King Plutone. As the former, he fell asleep on a couch during the second "Apollo," Sinfonia, less as a result of Orfeo s magical singing than of the contents of the booze bottle in his hand. When he awoke, it was Act IV and he was Plutone. Accompanied by a regal. Ens handled Carontes "O tu ch'innanzi morte" with aplomb, including a resonant low H Without recourse to a costume change. Ens differentiated Plutone from Caronte by singing louder.
Suzana Ograjensck was a thin voiced Ninfa and Prosperina. Mirko C.uadag-nini was announced as indisposed, and indeed he sounded dry at times. Of the four Shepherds, tenor Jeroen de Vaal impressed most with his strong, bright, forward voice. Countertenor Cvril Auviry had difficulty projecting over die orchestra, which included the IVlonteverdi Oon-tinuo Ensemble, a seven-piece ensemble (eight counting Bolton, who occasionally weighed in with a few chords on the harpsichord). Bolton's opening tempi were much quicker than ordinary speech, though they relaxed somewhat as Act I progressed. The Freiburgers played with elan, and the Arnold Sehoenberg Choir provided a youthful tone to the proceedings.
L'Orfeo's opening chorus was the first of three encores. The final encore, a musical invitation from the cast to "Prosit 2012" with a toast--you truly haven't lived until you've heard a period-instrument ensemble accompany an excerpt from a Strauss operetta. Patrons were treated to a complimentary glass of Sekt in the lobby Outside, fireworks lit up the cityscape, their explosions resounding like cannon fire through the cobblestone streets near the Holburg.