thu 23/10/2014

L’Ormindo, Royal Opera, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse | Opera reviews, news & interviews

L’Ormindo, Royal Opera, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

First opera in candlelit Jacobean theatre shows promising shape of things to come

Candlelit treat: 'Music' descends to sing prologueStephen Cummiskey

The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the new indoor Jacobean theatre at The Globe, is an absolute jewel of painstaking historical research and craftsmanship. It is small, seating around 350, and with its thrust stage lit by around 100 candles (with electric light only on the musicians’ gallery in this performance), it is a challenging space to put on an opera, but also a uniquely atmospheric one.

It many ways this Royal Opera/Shakespeare’s Globe co-production is experimental, with everyone involved having to learn from scratch how to work within these limitations, and also what opportunities for theatrical magic they may provide: no fancy video projection has ever delighted an audience as much as a white-clad ‘Music’ being lowered on wires though a trapdoor in the heavens to sing her prologue.

The candles are also used imaginatively, with various ‘lighting states’ created by adjusting the height of the six chandeliers, or by cast members carrying lanterns and candelabras to create the 17th-century equivalent of a followspot. A cowled Death methodically snuffing out flames as the (apparently) doomed lovers sing their duet is a particularly memorable moment.

Joélle Harvey cameos as Lady LuckThere is no staging other than the panelled and painted back wall itself, but visual interest is maintained throughout by the costumes of haute couture trained Anja Vang Kragh, some merely exquisite, others fantastic and hilarious – such as the one designed to depict Erisbe in bed, complete with cushions and bedstead.

Kasper Holten’s direction is high on farce, and the audience chortles appreciatively throughout. Having turned on the laughs, however, this production mostly fails to escape them and, though the piece can’t be anything but a happily-ever-after rom-com, it ought to have space for poignancy, even sombreness.

An unexpected star of the show is Christopher Cowell’s translation and adaptation of the libretto. It is certainly funny but also elegant and poetic in a cod-Shakespearean manner, with the odd glaring anachronism thrown in for good measure.

The small period-instrument band, on the gallery above and behind the stage, is made up of musicians from the Early Opera Company Orchestra, conducted by Christian Curnyn from the harpsichord. One can imagine it is a challenge to communicate with the singers from that position, but there is certainly no sign of difficulty. The ensemble cast includes three Royal Opera debuts, which suggests that this intimate theatre may play a useful role in nurturing young voices.  The ones here certainly deserve nurturing, with star turns from debutants Samuel Boden (Ormindo), Susanna Hurrell (Erisbe), and Joélle Harvey as Sicle (pictured above cameoing as Lady Luck). Most of the rest of the cast are up-and-coming too, with Ed Lyon (Amidas), James Laing (Nerillus), Rachel Kelly (Mirinda) and Ashley Riches (Osman) all doing themselves proud. Old hands Harry Nicoll (Eryka) and Graeme Broadbent (Ariademus) complete the very enjoyable picture.

  • L’Ormindo runs until 12 April 2014 at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe. A limited number of tickets is still available via the Globe’s website
A cowled Death methodically snuffing out flames as the (apparently) doomed lovers sing their duet is a particularly memorable moment

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