On the face of it, a large revolving perspex box with some scribbles on it, open to one side on an otherwise bare stage looked a little disappointing, yet when cunningly lit by Mark Jonathan and peopled by singers and dancers in wild abstracted costumes, Johan Engles’ designs bounced the classical tale of Orfeo and Euridice into vivid focus and was a feast for the eyes.

Of the several versions of Orfeo and Euridice Scottish Opera chose the original 1762 score in Italian adding in the Dance of the Blessed Spirits and the Dance of the Furies from the later Paris edition. In an evening of opera with dance it made complete sense that choreographer Ashley Page was welcomed back to Glasgow to direct his first opera with the company.  

The myth of Argonaut Orfeo travelling to Hades to rescue his wife Euridice, conditional on his not looking back, is well known and librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi  introduces the character of Amore, the goddess of love, not only to set the initial task but in this version of the story, to ensure a happy ending.

This was a particularly well sung opera with Caitlin Hulcup’s honey-toned mezzo bringing a noble passion to the trouser role of Orfeo. Dressed in a cream three piece linen suit and silk scarf, she was centre of attention and her well-choreographed journey back from the Underworld with a now quarrelsome Euridice in tow was a particular highlight. We had to wait until the end to hear the famous aria “Che farò senza Euridice” simply delivered against stage black, melting the heart of Amore and us in the audience too. Lucy Hall’s innocent-looking Euridice, in a dropped waist cream shift dress, was tenderly sung. Portuguese early music specialist soprano Ana Quintans, in a 1950s Grace Kelly pink polka dot style dress with fitted black velvet bodice, brought a bright fresh approach, almost stealing the show with her major aria “Gli sguardi trattieni” in Act I.

Chorus Master Susannah Wapshott should be proud of her of 20-strong singers who supported the action splendidly, and who also had to cope with a bizarre range of costume changes from mourners in black, lost souls in punkish low-life distressed frock coats, and then Elysian lovers completely shrouded head to toe in white mesh which looked like it had been dipped in crème de menthe and all held on with garlanded head bands. In the final scene, it was back to the 1950s theme in dinner jackets and long net dresses, all with a wild twist for a sparkling party ending.

The hand-picked team of eight dancers certainly added to the entertainment, as line dancing funeral guests, then as Furies in shiny red and black spattered costumes with insect-like shiny eyes in their hats. Page had them rounding up the lost souls into the perspex box like sheepdogs, and then forming a moving testudo across the stage with eyes alight menacing the audience. For the Elysian Fields, the colour palette shifted to floral reds and greens for the Dance of the Blessed Spirits and Page had a succession of pairs of dancers in very watchable duets to lovely flute-led accompaniment.

Kenneth Montgomery conducted a reduced orchestra raised up somewhat from the normal Stygian depths of the pit in Theatre Royal. It was not a period band, but the addition of Baroque timpani and a couple of natural trumpets provided additional interest, as did the off-stage ensemble which included Orfeo’s harp. Montgomery’s brisk tempos added infectious energy to this imaginative staging.

Sadly, John Engles died before Christmas, so he never got to see the production. It’s a pity too that he never got to hear the Glasgow audience enthusiastically cheering at the end of a very enjoyable evening.