The full Monty! Prom 25, MonteVerdi L'Orfeo with John Eliot Gardiner. Utterly outstanding, vibrant with life and energy. Eurydice dies on her wedding day and Orfeo descends to Hades to bring her back from the dead. He fails, but in music, he finds life, and the eternal source of creative power that it represents. Monteverdi didn't look back, as Orpheus did, but looked forward, and is generally credited for creating the amazing art form that is opera in the western classical tradition. Gardiner has this music in his soul, but seems to re-live, and revive afresh. This is what music should be about - a life force channeled by creative adventure.
L'Orfeo was written for small, semi-private places, but the verve which Gardiner and his forces brought to it in the vast empty acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall was astonishing. Defying the laws of physics, Gardiner's English Baroque Soloists created sounds that seem to vibrate around the building, not by the force of volume but by vigorous joie de vivre. And with period instruments, too ! Of course they were aided by modern technology, but why not ? We don't need to eat baroque food and wear baroque clothes to be "authentick". It's the spirit of the music that really counts. Given a choice, Monteverdi and his audiences would, I think, have been thrilled. Nothing is "dead" in this music, except to ears that prefer to be dead.
Hardly anything about the baroque period was timid. Rather, it was an explosion of audacious imagination, when the very idea of an insular Old World was being blown away by discoveries of other, exotic new worlds, and horizons. Kings with absolute power, and upper class audiences, didn't give a toss about "pleasing the public". Hence the passion and intensity of this music, and its inventiveness The English Baroque Soloists are thus named because they're highly individual, each instrument distinctive, and played with great technique. Even clapping hands make music ! In Act One, the pastoral sounds evoke ancient Arcadia, neither Greece nor early 17th century Europe but somehow more elusive. When Eurydice enters Hades, the orchestra responds with a striking range of colours. When Orfeo returns to the world, we hear his harp singing. Eventually he will be torn apart by demonic spirits, but for the moment, he's creating art, and life, with his music.
The Monteverdi Choir were glorious : this is their forte, and how! Great soloists, too - Krystian Adam sang Orpheus, Marina Florez sang Eurydice. Full cast and listening link HERE.
The Orpheus myth is so potent that it has been reborn many times in art, literature and in music. The Royal Opera House is doing Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice in September. This kind of value-enhanced immersion lets listeners go as deeply as they like into the ideas behind music, and the different ways in which such ideas can be expressed, infinitely less superficial than the shallow Ten Pieces mindset. There's absolutely no reason why non-listeners can't be drawn into the magic of music through more solid fare.Let's pray that ROH or the ENO will do Harrison Birtwistle The Mask of Orpheus, which was so successful at the Proms (unstaged) in 2009. (Read more here) Luckily we had his The Corridor and The Cure, (a good piece of music marred by a stupid production) Read more here. Monteverdi to Harrison Birtwistle - that's a thought ! But one which proves the universal relevance of music.