What a joy to welcome back to the Cotswolds a designer who believes in keeping it simple. This has become one of Longborough Opera Festival's resolute strengths; so too, is managing more with less. To end their successful 2017 season, designer Richard Studer is back to create another simple set, just as he did for Jenůfa last year. No vast Perspex cubes as used by Scottish Opera, nor stadium terracing as at the Met, just a simple stepped arrangement drawing the eye to the urn which contains Euridice's ashes. This set is very reminiscent of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle's 1977 intelligible productions in Cologne.

Hanna-Liisa Kirchin (Orfeo) © Matthew Williams-Ellis
Hanna-Liisa Kirchin (Orfeo)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

Gluck was an innovator; he sought to reform the excessive ornamentation of operas and create a stronger connection between the music and the drama. This reform began with Orfeo ed Euridice in 1762, continued with Alceste in 1767, with the turning point being the 1774 version of Orphée et Eurydice in Paris with its significant additions, now incorporated into most productions.

This season's Tristan und Isolde, Magic Flute and Orfeo exhibited the virtues of simplicity of design. Fidelio broke the mould and was the least successful of the four. The message is simple. For a small stage in a small house there is no need for complex set designs. With Dan Saggers' clever lighting plots, just as powerful as those he provided for his 2016 Alcina success, it was down to Jeremy Silver and his band in the pit to work his magic. This he does, just as he did in Alcina, with most of his capable band playing all four of the season's operas. Harpist Catherine White returns to the pit after her significant contribution to Tristan and features even more prominently and confidently in Orfeo, notably at the beginning of Act 2, as Orfeo pleads with the furies for mercy; the music of his lyre placating them.

Hanna-Liisa Kirchin (Orfeo) and Nazan Fikret (Euridice) © Matthew Williams-Ellis
Hanna-Liisa Kirchin (Orfeo) and Nazan Fikret (Euridice)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

Choreographer Mark Smith works wonders with his young chorus of shepherds, nymphs and furies who sing well and multi-task effectively as the demons of the underworld, companions of Orfeo and heroines of Elysium. Bass Jack Holton is given additional responsibilities for keeping soprano He Wu, as Amore, shoulder high for long periods; first as Orfeo ponders Amore's challenges and words of advice on retrieving Euridice from the underworld and, secondly, joining in the celebrations as all ends to a happy but unsatisfactory script.

He Wu (Amore) and Hanna-Liisa Kirchin (Orfeo) © Matthew Williams-Ellis
He Wu (Amore) and Hanna-Liisa Kirchin (Orfeo)
© Matthew Williams-Ellis

Mezzo Hanna-Liisa Kirchin was last seen last year at Longborough as Ruggiero as she bade farewell to Alcina's island. She shows her emotions as the despairing Orfeo, cursing the Gods for taking Euridice from him (in this case her). In Act 3, overcome with grief and remorse having been defeated by one of Amore's challenges, she asks "Can I live without my love?" Kirchin's luminous voice is not a big one, she is successful in a small house and, hopefully, as her coaching with Nelly Miricioiu progresses, it may grow. By contrast, soprano Nazan Fikret has the more powerful voice and delivers a sharply painful performance as the angry Euridice.

He Wu shows sensitive pity towards Orfeo in Act 1 and successfully prevents his suicide in Act 3 as the dramatic music intensifies and the strong chorus becomes as important as the characters.

Gluck demanded simplicity in opera. Longborough delivers that in spades.