Silent Opera- L’Orfeo

3:36 pm in Featured, Review by EVNT

I am going to start with a disclaimer here:  I’m no opera critic.  I don’t read music and though I have heard the score of L’Orfeo before, I came to this  wanting to see and experience an unusual production that would use technology to manipulate the intimacy of the audience’s relationship with the music and the story.

Since the choice of venue is an important element of the entire experience, it is worth discussing the actual process of getting to Trinity Buoy Wharf.  From Canning Town station I walked alongside the bridge that comes out from the station-  it was one of the most desolate environments I have seen for a long time.  The main sources of light seemed to be the cars, as they dashed past me, and the looming monstrosity of the O2 centre beaming at me across the Thames like a neon kraken.  It was raining and I wasn’t sure if I was going in the right direction. When I finally came across the Wharf it wasn’t immediately obvious where I needed to go.  The whole place appeared abandoned: a kind of lost souls junkyard with an American-style Fat Boy diner sat in the middle of everything: closed.  There was a light-house though and a man stood outside.  I approached, he ushered me and gave me headphones.

Inside the audience were seated in an apron configuration with the performers and musicians spread across separate scaffolds and it took me a while just to adjust to the differences between the outside environment and the one I had entered.  In their combination of punk and Elizabethan aesthetics, the costumes reminded me of Derek Jarman films and the Furies seemed to embody a rebellious, subversive punk spirit, though how this actually makes sense in the context of the Orpheus and Eurydice story was unclear to me.

The “silent” element of the production derives from the use of headphones to supply a combination of pre-recorded music and a live relay of singers and live musicians.  Trying to understand the mechanics, I kept on taking off my headphones.  Without them, the singers could clearly be heard but, at a slightly lower volume, and as if acapella.  This layering did add an interesting element to the performance but, as we were moved from one section of the space to the next, I started to wonder what it was really adding.  As a piece of intimate opera, L’Orfeo is an impressive piece of work.  It feels polished and the singers and musicians are all of a very high standard.

Being so close also makes you feel more of a physical and emotional connection with the story, something you rarely get in a big opera house.  How was the technology being used to open up new possibilities though?  I didn’t feel that there was anything that was being done here that couldn’t have been done using analogue technologies.  The promenade element and the way the spaces were dressed felt familiar.  I kept on waiting to be surprised by the production but that moment never came.  Apparently, an audience member has to decide Orpheus’s fate at the end and there is an alternative ending that Louis d’Heudieres has composed especially for this production.  This passed me entirely though, I have to say.  The ending, on the night I saw it, was an exciting, visceral affair but, again, I couldn’t see how the technology was facilitating or enhancing this.

Will Drew