There is a first time for everything, which seems a strange statement to make when discussing L'Orfeo, Monteverdi's masterpiece of some 400 hundred years duration.
First time Artistic Director Paul Dyer has led the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra into this baroque, yet strangely contemporary, opera; the first time Brisbane Festival is utilsing two new venues (Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University and Moreton Bay College, Manly West) and it's also the first time Australia's finest orchestra of baroque musicians have performed this timeless tale as part of the Brisbane Festival.
A stellar cast of musicians and singers brought L'Orfeo to life last night in front of a mixed and abundant audience, eager and inquisitive to hear music that has been played, in this form, shape and vernacular, on these instruments (albeit not these instruments), from 'many gods make heavy work' times.
La Musica (the spirit of music poignantly performed by Sara Macliver) glitters onto the stage, introducing the story of wretched Orfeo who sang so beautifully that even the gods allowed him to enter the Underworld (where ancient Greeks believed souls were taken).
The scene is set for the story to unfold - a story not unlike any love/tragedy/romp in the woods with a Greek mythological twist. Someone is going to die. Someone is going to suffer and someone will not be a happy camper. Orfeo is one such person and although he could sing up a storm, he still had to go through great wretchedness, then find happiness only to lose it again. Orfeo (Markus Brutscher in total command of his vocal chords) goes through heaven and hell (literally) to get his beautiful bride, Eurydice (Sara Macliver) back from the clutches of the Underworld.
Caronte and Plutone (Wolf Matthias Friedrich) are unmoved by Orfeo's plight - actually, Caronte is unmoved (great costume, love the coat) and Plutone (better coat) bends to the will of his wife, Proserpina (Fiona Campbell - what a rare talent), Queen of the Underworld, who insists Orfeo should be able to take his gorgeous yet very dead wife back with him to romp and sing happily in nature once more. Plutone (Friedrich is one impressive baroque singer with range) naturally wants sexual favours in return (some things never change).
Even on a semi-promise (the look on Proserpina's face when Plutone mentions the bedroom is gold) Plutone still wants to play god and set Orfeo a challenge. And Orfeo agrees....
The story of Orfeo is timeless yet very relevant. Sure, it might be a simple plot of love, good, evil, gods, humans, loss, recovery, and loss again, but these lessons have been brought down from the gods in all their varying forms as long as history has had history, and still humans don't learn.
Emotion and reason, human impulse and stubborness, bravery and stupidity - it is so hard to find the harmony. The harmony is found with wonderful performers weaving in, out and around the orchestra - a sort of impromptu party rather than a formal opera, where every cast member, be it vocal or orchestral, plays an integral part.
Gauging by audience reaction and overhearing comments such as, "Bring back the old music style"; "I've got a new respect for the recorder now"; "Pretty impressive voices", and "remember when we played recorder at school - 40 of us - all taking a turn at 'London's Burning?'" one would have to say L'Orfeo still entices the audience to this day.
And another reason to keep the music curriculum at every school in Australia!
Brisbane Festival and Philip Bacon Galleries Present
Australian Brandenburg Orchestra
Venues and Dates: Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University, 12-13 September
Venues and Dates: Moreton Bay College, Manly West, 15 September
Venue and Dates: City Recital Hall Angel Place Wed 19, Thu 20, Fri 21, Tue 25 & Wed 26 @ 7pm
Bookings: City Recital Hall Angel Place (02) 8256 2222 or cityrecitalhall.com Brandenburg (02) 9328 7581 or brandenburg.com.au
Venue and Dates: Hamer Hall, The Arts Centre Sunday 23 September at 5pm
Bookings: Arts Centre Melbourne 1300 182 183 or artscentremelbourne.com.au Brandenburg 1300 782 856 or brandenburg.com.au.