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Review: Cape Town Opera’s Orphée et Eurydice

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Matthew Wild’s latest production, Orphée et Eurydice, based on the ancient Greek tragedy, sees a magnificent performance from the Cape Town Opera Chorus and the accompanying orchestra. Held at the Baxter Theatre, the classic performance has an air of eclectic variation, a result of the attention to detail and innovative stylistic choice.

Being new to Opera, terms such as libretto and even ‘surtitles’ were foreign to me. But after an online cram session before the show, I was eager to experience this classic art form that has stood the test of time.

Going into the performance as a ‘newbie’ brought on a child-like excitement that was only surpassed by the sheer complexity of Matthew Wild’s unique take on the classic opera.

Orphée et Eurydice is the story of Greek musician and poet Orpheus’ grief over the sudden death of his young wife, Eurydice, and his challenging journey into the Underworld to resurrect her – but with a twist.

Cape Town Opera’s rendition of the opera had the three leads – Orphée, Eurydice and Amour – played by females, spurring the imagination of the audience and making the space personal and inclusive. The casting choice showed that a story of love and loss is for everyone and a stranger to none.

Hip hop and contemporary dance were also added into the mix, a nod to Orphée et Eurydice’s 18th-century composer Christoph Gluck, who was one of the first composers to break the mold of ‘stiff’ and traditional operatic performances.

The dancers’ frantic moves while wearing animal masks and waving knives creates a sensation of violence – the perfect way to portray the demons tormenting Orphée.

One scene saw a dancer with limbs swerving, twisting, moving in a simultaneously fluid and unnatural bop. I found my attention locked, videos coming to mind of odd gymnasts getting into and out of an intimidatingly small box. It should be painful, it makes you a bit uncomfortable but keeps you intrigued. Who knew that modern dance styles could work to enhance themes in ancient Greek tragedy?

The final scene was my favourite. A semi-transparent screen slid down between the audience and the performers, a projection of Orphée and Eurydice cast onto the stage during one final gripping act. Rather juxtaposed, the projection overlapped with the cast and into the background, while the performance continued. The effect was surreal as if the overture were being reenacted in tandem to the opera’s conclusion.

Orphée et Eurydice was a great introduction to the world of opera. The performance was quite simply astounding and the small attention to detail rounded it all as an interesting new take on an ancient theme. The production is on until September 7 and it would be remiss not to take advantage.

Yusuf Latief

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