Claudio Monteverdi and Jasdeep Singh Degun, Original Italian text by Alessandro Striggio
Leeds Grand Theatre
Opera North and South Asian Arts-UK join forces to make music worthy of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, a massive challenge, and they succeed beautifully.
Jasdeep Singh Degun, composer and sitar player, weaves and melds European baroque music and Indian classical music into a coherent whole, equally respectful to both sources. Half the opera (which originally premièred in 1607) has been translated into South Asian language and updated to modern times.
Anna Himali Howard’s colourful production, conducted by Laurence Cummings (on the harpsichord) and Degun (on the sitar), premièred in Nottingham this October. The film makes certain that the full range of Asian instruments are regularly on display in close-up.
The legend, which has Greek and Sanskrit roots, is set in the back garden of a semi-detached suburban house which is filled with extended family and musicians who are celebrating a mixed marriage between Orpheus (Nicholas Watts) and Eurydice (Ashnaa Sasikaran), a beautiful Asian woman. Joy quickly turns to sorrow when she is bitten by a snake and dies.
Orpheus determines to go to Hades to bring her back. Kaviraj Singh (who plays the santoor) steps out of the orchestra to sing and act an adamant, fierce-eyed Charon, who refuses to ferry a live mortal into the Underworld. Singh’s voice and his expressive hand and arm movement is one of the high spots of the production.
Pluto (Dean Robinson), the ruler of Hades, and Proserpine (Chandra Chakraborty), his wife, are another mixed marriage. It is because they have great sex that she is able to persuade him to allow Eurydice to return to earth.
Orpheus loses her for a second time because he loves her too much and disobeys Pluto’s conditions of release. The drumming, which accompanies his anger and grief, wins a round of applause.
A guru (Kirpal Singh Panesar) reminds him that earthly pleasures are fleeting and wonders why he is giving in to anger and grief when he can instantly win eternal life and join Eurydice by just dying? And on this joyous note, the opera ends.
Opera North’s Orpheus can be viewed free online on the OperaVision channel.
Reviewer: Robert Tanitch