Hannah Playhouse, Cnr Courtenay Place & Cambridge Terrace, Wellington

04/08/2018 - 04/08/2018

Production Details

Concert Performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo!

This 400 year old operatic masterpiece tells the tale of Orpheus and his journey to the Underworld to bring Euridice, his beloved wife back to the world of the living.

A fantastic cast of Wellington singers unite for a concert performance on Saturday 4 August at 7:30pm, at the Hannah Playhouse. William King sings the title role, with Alexandra Gandionco as his Euridice. Dame Malvina Major Christchurch Aria Winner – Laura Loach – sings the role of ‘Music’ (the spirit of Music) and Lexus Finalist Joe Haddow will sing both the roles of Charon and Pluto.

Supporting this fine cast is the Eternity Renaissance Orchestra, led by Anne Loeser, and conducted by Eternity Opera General Music Director Simon Romanos.

We would like to invite you to the performance on Saturday with an allocation of two tickets. Please RSVP to me by Wednesday 1 August and I can arrange this for you.

Hannah Playhouse
Saturday 4 August 2018
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Theatre , Opera ,

Great charm and musicality

Review by Michael Gilchrist 06th Aug 2018

Orfeo was composed in 1607, and while the programme notes for this production claim that it was the first opera ever composed, that honour is usually accorded Jacopo Peri’s Dafne, written some ten years’ earlier. L’Orfeo is, however, the first opera produced that continues to be performed today – and Monteverdi’s remarkably contemporary sensibility is well captured in this production.

The desire to reintroduce the themes of Greek tragedy to a seventeenth century audience result in a re-telling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice that doesn’t shy away from identifying characters with abstract principles – Hope, Music, Tragedy and the like. Nevertheless the human drama and its passions are always vividly evoked – along with the folk music and dances of the time – and the pleasures of opera as we know it now are all present in this work.

Perhaps it is the means employed in this early baroque music that appeals so much in our post-romantic age. Complex harmonies, choruses full of tonal colour and speech-like rhythms and melodic inflections do the emotional work. Likewise, that contemporary sensibility is best displayed through a concern for authenticity – and the Eternity Renaissance Orchestra, under the direction of conductor Simon Romanos do an excellent job in this respect.

The orchestra comprises nine pieces and features a theorbo, viola de gamba, sackbuts, cornetto and recorder, alongside instruments that have changed little since the renaissance like harp and guitar, violin and viola. What the orchestra lack in power due to their small size they make up for in texture and technique. They all play with great skill, stamina and dedication – and performers who are now seasoned in the Eternity Opera, like Christopher Hill on guitar, seem entirely at home in this scale of production.

In addition, the stylistic accuracy which flows from Romanos – who is centre stage here, moving gracefully and tellingly in a splendid brocaded jacket – helps to produce a responsive and intimate setting in which the singers can perform at their best.

This is a concert-style performance with the orchestra arranged in a half moon facing the audience and the singers moving from chairs behind them to take up positions in front as the drama requires. While this process is not always the easiest for the singers, the young cast moves in character with no hesitation or self-consciousness. There are some puzzling moments, though, with singers required to return to their seats even while they continue to be implicitly involved in the drama and addressed by other characters.  A little more attention to this aspect would improve the cogency of the drama.  

The singers are drawn from Opera New Zealand’s chorus and the New Zealand School of Music, with a number already winning national prizes. It is exciting to see the rate at which some are developing as performers, while still being in their very early twenties or even younger. Their performances are uniformly excellent and all deserve commendation. Each brings something distinctive and that variety is a real pleasure in this production. It is great credit to the experienced musicians involved in the orchestra and in the production of this show that they have created an environment that allows this individuality to blossom.

Laura Loach as Music gets things off to a fine start with her commanding soprano. Alexandra Gandianco as Eurydice sings with great beauty but also effortlessly conveys the joy of a bride. Garth Norman as the first Shepherd sings with a consistent beauty and control of tone and pitch throughout, without ever sounding precious. Indeed, this aspect of a late renaissance aesthetic – shaping quarter tones and controlling pitch and tonal variation – is very well managed by all singers.

Milla Dickens as Hope has a gorgeous mezzo sound and Olivia Sheat as Persephone is a stunning queen of the underworld, radiant in appearance and voice. Alexandra Woodhouse Appleby as the bearer of bad tidings is a strong presence, as is Tania Dreaver as Echo. Lexus song-quest finalist Joe Haddow, from Porirua, has a genuinely imposing baritone – and stage presence – as both Charon and Pluto. 

In the lead role, twenty two year old Will King is simply outstanding. With a strong, flexible baritone (the role is designated a ‘bari-tenor’ in the score), he makes the role his own, pitching real emotion into many of his entries, acting with confidence and evident enjoyment – and mastering all stylistic challenges. Early on, he brings out the catchy up-beat character of the aria ‘O shady woods do you remember’ in memorable fashion – and things continue on in fine style from there.

Once again Eternity Opera have provided an evening of great charm and musicality, displaying all the depth of talent and enthusiasm for opera that we are lucky enough to have in Wellington. Judging from the audience response, it seems too, that there is real interest in these less-frequently explored parts of the opera repertoire.

Regrettably, this was a one-off performance – unless reviews like this can persuade performers and sponsors of the need for a repeat at some time in the future. Thankfully, the company is offering another production this year – Madam Butterfly from November 16-24 at the Hannah Playhouse. 


Roger Perkins August 6th, 2018

Excellent review, Michael. 

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