Clare College Opera deliver a sleek, seamless production with sensational singing for ALICE CARR

Clare College Chapel, April 27th/28th, 8pm, £4/£5/£7

[rating: 4/5]

Presenting an eighteenth-century opera to a modern audience can be tricky. So many times, I have seen productions desperately scramble to force the opera to relate to contemporary viewers by cramming the stage full of clichés, iPhones, sunglasses and Starbuck’s coffee. It almost always ends up being forced and gimmicky.

CCMS’s production of Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice could have easily fallen down this pit hole, but their opera was sleek, seamless and most of all, tastefully done. CCMS succeeded in not only bringing the opera to the modern day, but bringing it to Cambridge.

The Elysian Fields were set in an eerie, twisted may ball, which sounds a bit tacky when written down, but it was subtle and ethereal, and the quant backdrop of Clare College Chapel provided an intimate setting for the mystical, mythical opera. This was used to an advantage, with the simplistic, yet still striking set.

Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice is a heart wrenching, poignant opera, and this production managed to flow seamlessly throughout the emotions, the lighting confidently guided the audience from sombre, to sorrowful, to exultant rejoice, as did the stage direction. I particularly liked the beautiful movement used in Eurydice’s revealing in the underworld, and the hissing, writhing chorus, who scuttled and panted around Orpheus upon his entrance to Hades.

The production was filled with bright ideas and nice touches, which culminated in the final scene, where the chorus filled the hall with waving candles, and balloons were strewn from the balcony above. All of this made this production engaging and lively, and the audience was notably drawn in and engrossed in the story line. When Eurydice fell to her second death, hands were thrown to mouths, and most of the audience partly stood up and leaned in. It was dramatic and powerful.

Oliver El-Holiby’s Orpheus commanded the stage with his hauntingly beautiful voice and his emotive and heartfelt performance. Héloïse Werner’s portrayal of Love was vivacious, she pranced about the stage with a charming playful energy. She had moments of weakness when her voice seemed a bit forced, but these were countered with equal moments of brilliance, as her powerful voice resonated throughout the chapel. Undoubtedly, the star of the show was Judith Lebiez’s Eurydice, who exercised perfect control and excellent vocal range, and sang with the raw emotion her character deserves. The chorus were brilliant, they moved around the chapel, enveloping the audience in harmonies, and dramatically chanting in unison.

The instrumentalists were expertly conducted, and for the most part, fantastic. Occasionally, they needed tightening up, but soon found their stride, demonstrating controlled, effortless accuracy, and they comfortably led the audience through the old familiar favourites.

It is hard to find too much fault with this production; perhaps the lighting was occasionally a bit clumsy, the interval seemed a bit unnecessary and the English translation tended to get lost in the dramatic atmosphere, leaving the audience a bit lost too, but otherwise, CCMS succeeded in producing a graceful, honest version of Orpheus and Eurydice, doing justice to Gluck’s ethereal masterpiece. Truly, this subtle, tasteful production is a testament to the power of clever minimalism over quirky gimmicks which soon become tired.