Orpheus – Opera North and South Asian Arts UK Review

Leeds Grand Theatre – until 19 November 2022

Reviewed by Dawn Smallwood


(C)Tristram Kenton

Opera North and South Asian Arts UK collaborates Orpheus, a new reimagined production, for this autumn season. Orpheus is based on of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Claudio Montevideo’s Orfeo, one of the world’s oldest operas. Orfeo at the time played a significant role in combining dialogue, song, music and dance and this myth certainly offers scope for creators past and present to re-imagine the legendary Orpheus and his musical and spiritual journey he took.

Orpheus was guided by two worlds, and this is the case for both Opera North and South Asian Arts UK to offer in union baroque style and Indian classical music. Montevideo and Jasdeep Singh Degun’s musical compositions are combined with the musing of two cultures and traditions which aren’t compromised but celebrates two worlds.

Music and myth legends introduce the story and invites one and all to honour the marriage of Eurydice (Ashnaa Sasikaran) and Orpheus (Nicholas Watts). There is an eclectic of traditions and cultures that are merged colourfully and musically during the wedding festivities which continue into the night and morning. Eventually and unexpectedly, Orpheus learns the death of Eurydice from Silvia (Kezia Bienek), a messenger.

The world becomes a different place following Eurydice’s death and Orpheus’ resolve to bring his wife back. He travels to the Land of the Dead where he is guided by Nambikkai (Yarlinie Thanabalasingam) and he is acquainted with the gods and spirits of his family and friends. Orpheus meets Caronte (Kaviraj Singh), a boatman who refuses him to cross the boundary, and after a serenading the boatman with song Orpheus crosses and reaches the other world.

In the other world he meets Proserpina (Chandra Chakraborty), Land of the Dead’s Queen, and she learns of Orpheus plight. Proserpina allows him to take Eurydice home, world of the living, without looking back in which he with doubt does. Back at home and alone Orpheus however is changed forever and is supported by Apollo, guru god (Kirpal Singh Panesar), as a changed man dealing with loss and having new perspectives.

No doubt inspiration is sought from this Greek myth and how Orpheus traverses from one world to another dealing with loss through pursuing a personal and spiritual journey – past, present, and future. The blended of melodic and baroque and Indian Sargam music creatively and skilfully explores, reimagines, and retells the story of Orpheus under the excellent collaboration of Laurence Cummings and Jasdeep Singh Degun. The transient project of the melodies, songs and sounds certainly ambiences one to join Orpheus’ journey to one world to another and back.

The musical ingenuity is supported with stunning staging, courtesy of Leslie Travers, Jackie Shemesh and Camila Tirado which represents a universal meeting point which could be anything and anywhere in the world. Under the direction of Anna Himali Howard, the cast excellently portrays the characters. An Orpheus re-imagined with the re-imagination of two Eastern and Western cultural worlds telling one legendary myth and emphasising how relevant the content is for whoever, wherever and whenever.

The first performance is coincided with Light Night Leeds with Shahbaz Hussain’s Taal Yatra light installation nearby and how the “journey of rhythm” encapsulates a spiritual journey and how lights and sounds become one – a similar vein to Orpheus’ journey and a continuation of it.

Orpheus is a musical and cultural feast of the re-imagining!