Do you remember the envelopes for death notices? The ones with black borders? Such is the first impression of the proscenium at the Komische Oper for its new Orfeo ed Euridice which then opens onto a clinically white stage. In the middle, a table, two chairs, a man and a woman in modern costume sit silently opposite each other. There's nothing more to say. Scenes of a Marriage, last act, by Ingmar Bergman. He takes his already packed suitcase and leaves. She slits her wrists. Only with this act of despair does Orfeo realise how he feels about Euridice and thus begins the classic story, which in Damiano Michieletto's production then switches to a hospital, at Euridice's deathbed. Amore hears Orfeo's laments, takes pity on his suffering and offers him a solution: he may go to the underworld to fetch Euridice on the condition that he does not look at her on the way back to the upper world. During his journey, Orfeo must tame the Furies, here depicted as a faceless, surging, totally black-clad crowd who not only want to stop him on his path but also destroy him. When he finally finds Euridice, he forgets to tell her the condition, which logically leads her to assume that he does not love her after all and makes such a scene that he looks at her in despair and thus loses her a second time.

Carlo Vistoli (Orfeo) and Nadja Mchantaf (Euridice)
© Iko Freese |

This story fascinated Christoph Willibald Gluck and his librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi. On the threshold between the Baroque and Classical periods, the opera, originally based on Ovid's Metamorphoses, was premiered to great acclaim at the Burgtheater in Vienna, 1762. It is this version, in Italian, that is employed here.

Paolo Fantin's abstract, minimalist stage design is often transformed thanks to a floating cube that repeatedly reveals a new interior space, a type of heart chamber. This is where the most heartfelt outbursts of emotion take place. This is where Euridice dies, but is also brought back to life with a torrent of water. In Act 2, the entire stage space is transformed into a funnel leading into the underworld, with Orfeo digging his way through what feels like thousands of metres of black material after he has appeased the Furies. Thanks to Alessandro Carletti's very successful lighting, the various scenes and levels of the upper and lower worlds take on additional pastel-coloured dimensions, the psychological significance of which, however, is not immediately apparent. Klaus Bruns provides the timeless, banal costumes for the protagonists – Orfeo and Euridice are like you and me. Choreographer Thomas Wilhelm gives the Furies a life of their own as a unit, just as he conjures up a witty ballet in Act 3, where Euridice's triplicated shadows dissolve again and again, much to Orfeo's consternation. Thanks to Michieletto's detailed direction of the characters, the three soloists give their roles a sense of reality – the ancient myth remains relevant today since the basic emotions of love and trust it deals with are universal and timeless. Michieletto gives the production a bittersweet happy ending by repeating the first scene. All for naught? Amore has the last word.

Nadja Mchantaf (Euridice) and Carlo Vistoli (Orfeo)
© Iko Freese |

As Orfeo, countertenor Carlo Vistoli is present on stage almost the entire time. Vocally and dramatically he was fully committed, although his timbre did not necessarily have the unearthly sweetness as noted by Gluck, but rather resembled a slender, razor-sharp steel. As Euridice, Nadja Mchantaf was on stage repeatedly from the beginning, but only sings from the second act, venting her anger and frustration at Orfeo with a powerful soprano. Michieletto enhanced the role of Amore and converted the character into a magician, brought to life by Josefine Mindus with a sweet and clear soprano. Amore also undergoes a transformation, from a poorly dressed amateur not quite up to her craft in the first act to a professional magician in a glittering costume by the end.

Carlo Vistoli (Orfeo) and the Furies
© Iko Freese |

Daniel Bates is known as an Early Music specialist with his ensemble La Nuova Musica. Here he conducted the Komische Oper Orchestra with a somewhat heavy and loud hand at times, the filigree quality of the orchestration often lost. The Vocalconsort Berlin provides the chorus with its commentary function, sometimes as depressed patients in hospital, sometimes as faceless black-clad Furies, always on musical top form.