L’Ormindo – An Evening of Comic, Candlelit Perfection

When offered free tickets to something, you are never quite sure what to expect. This uncertainty is heightened when the ticket in question is for a new production (by the Royal Opera /Shakespeare’s Globe) of a largely forgotten opera by equally seldom remembered composer Francesco Cavalli. Indeed, an opera that hasn’t been performed live in the UK since the 1960s. The venue (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) opened to the public in the January of this year, was yet another mystery to me.

Despite my customary scepticism and entrenched sense of weekend inertia, a free evening out is very hard to refuse so I dragged myself off of the sofa and headed for the Globe.

The first striking thing about the evening was the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse itself; an indoors replica of a Jacobean theatre, modelled on Blackfriars playhouse where Shakespeare’s own company performed in the winter. An intimate space, lit almost entirely by candles with the smell of wood hanging thick in the air. One could hardly imagine a more enchanting setting for what was about to take place.

The story is a sexually charged comedy centering around the flirtatious Erisbe the wife of Hariadeno the aged king of Mauretania, her two lovers the young princes Ormindo and Amida, a full complement of domestic staff, Amida’s abandoned lover Sicle and, as to be expected, the gods of Love, Destiny, Harmony and Luck.

It was clear from the very opening that as far as the music was concerned we were in safe hands in the form of Christian Curnyn directing a small and exquisite band of musicians installed in the gallery. They played with a crisp and detailed vitality that brought Cavalli’s gorgeous but occasionally routine score to life and in the more sensual and languid sections there were moments of extreme beauty.

The singing was a tour de force of control, precision and colour entirely appropriate to the space. Samuel Boden’s appealingly love-struck Ormindo was a delicious contrast to the more robust Amidas of Ed Lyons. Susanna Hurrell made a charming and wickedly amusing Erisbe. I also give special commendation to anyone who had to sing whilst suspended from the ceiling on a rope.

The production, under the direction of Kasper Holten worked well with the space using candlelight, audience interaction and a kaleidoscopic approach to costume to great effect. The acting was first class extracting laughs from the audience left, right and centre, demonstrating both the skill of the cast and the surprising relevance today of Italian humour from 1644. For the benefit of a contemporary British audience the opera was presented in a highly effective English translation by Christopher Cowell.

It is difficult for me fully to sum up exactly what I felt about the show in the context of opera and theatre performances in today’s London as it is quite unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before. I do however believe that this production of L’Ormindo presents an exciting, new standard in the performance of early opera and I enjoyed every last minute of it.

#ROHlormindo

L’Ormindo runs at the Sam Wanamaker playhouse, London until the 12th of April 2014.

For more information:

www.shakespearesglobe.com/theatre/whats-on/sam-wanamaker-playhouse/lormindo