Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo with I Fagiolini, July 2019

MTFA are thrilled to present Monteverdi’s revolutionary opera in a radical new production with innovative performance group I Fagiolini.

Matthew Sandy with mask, Barbican 2018, photo Fran Marshall

5th July 2019, 7.30pm

in York at York Early Music Festival (

7th July 2019, 7.00pm

with special ‘relaxed performance’ at 3.00pm
in London at LSO St Luke’s (

Caitlin Hulcup with Eurydice puppet, Barbican 2018, photo Fran Marshall

Genre-busting opera

Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo is one of the first operas. It is also one of the greatest, launching centuries of what has become a vibrant and compelling art form through a story – of the journey of Orpheus to the Underworld to find his beloved Eurydice – that never grows old. 

It is a story that has always been a catalyst for reform and revolution. Apart from inspiring this and others among the very earliest operas, it was the inspiration for Gluck’s Orfée (the flagship for his theatrical reforms); Jean Cocteau’s visionary Orphic Trilogy; and Pina Bausch’s game-changing Orpheus and Eurydice.

The intimate theatre of Monteverdi meets the ancient theatre of puppets and masks

Now MTFA joins forces with I Fagiolini, Robert Hollingworth, award-winning stage director Thomas Guthrie, designer Ruth Paton and rising star Matthew Long in the title role, to pioneer exciting techniques in the presentation of opera. The production is based on work developed by Guthrie first with I Fagiolini in semi-staged performances in Venice and London, and then while he was resident at Princeton USA 2017/18, where he worked with Paton and student singers to develop puppeteering skills and present the opera in Bunraku style with full size puppets.

Thomas Guthrie writes: ‘In a sense, this has nothing to do with puppets, and everything to do with trying to make good theatrical opera. One of theatre’s great and unique gifts – as with myth itself – is the power it has to inspire our imagination, to lead us into ourselves to find our own stories. Puppets do this by definition. If they don’t, they can’t work. They help create a ‘space inbetween’, into which the audience is invited, and which, when they enter it, allows them to connect with their own imaginations and their own responses to the story being told. In addition, the moment when the audience suspend their disbelief and believe that what they know to be inanimate is a living and breathing character – that magical moment – is also when their ears open, and the music can make its full impact. Put simply, puppets are hugely powerful tools with which to tell operatic stories. I am enormously grateful and excited that MTFA are leading the field by supporting the training of singers in puppetry, helping create the possibility of direct, immediate and shocking musical theatre.’

Accessibility, relevance and the ‘relaxed performance’

Exploring themes of loss, identity and self-belief, which resonate with us all, particularly at times of self-doubt or poor mental health, MTFA’s outreach work includes workshops with adults with learning disabilities and those new to opera, including at the LSO MOnday Club and Claremont Project. Participants are invited to respond to the themes, music and immediacy of L’Orfeo through music, singing, puppetry and free expression. A special ‘relaxed’ performance, aimed at children and adults with special needs, will include autism-friendly adaptions to the space and production, with expert advice from autism support charity SIGNAL. 

Thomas Guthrie rehearsing Mauro Peter and Roderick Willliams at ROH, from ROH ‘Introduction to Magic Flute’

The performers:

I Fagiolini with the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble, with student singers from the University of York

  • Orfeo – Matthew Long
  • Eurydice – Jenni Harper
  • Ninfa/Proserpina – Eleanor Minney
  • Messagiera/La Musica – Ciara Hendrick
  • Speranza/Shepherd – William Purefoy
  • Apollo/Shepherd – Nicholas Hurndall Smith
  • Infernal Spirit/Shepherd – Greg Skidmore
  • Caronte – Christopher Adams
  • Plutone/Shepherd – Charles Gibbs
  • Coro – students from University of York
  • Bjarte Eike, Jorge Jimenez – violins
  • Stefanie Heichelheim, Rachel Stott – violas
  • Christopher Suckling – cello
  • Peter McCarthy – violone
  • Joy Smith – harp
  • Lynda Sayce, Eilgio Quinteiro – theorbos
  • Catherine Pierron – chamber organ, harpsichord

The creative team:

  • Robert Hollingworth – musical director
  • Thomas Guthrie – stage director
  • Ruth Paton – designer, puppet and mask maker
  • Rui Rodrigues – puppet maker (Eurydice)
  • Natalie Rowland – lighting designer
clockwise from top: Rowan Pierce (Belinda), Caitlin Hulcup/Laura Caldow (Dido) and Ashley Riches/Ben Thompson (Aeneas), Barbican, 2018, photo Fran Marshall

Critical reaction to Dido: A funeral for the Queen of Carthage, Barbican, October 2018, directed with puppets and masks by Thomas Guthrie with designer Ruth Paton:

***** ’This was a stunning idea: or rather set of ideas.. A remarkable evening’ (Seen and Heard International)

**** ‘a freewheeling, fresh take’ (Guardian)

**** ‘inventive’ (Times)

**** ‘It hurt in all the right places, a deeply moving performance: what a pity it’s only getting the one performance’ (Bachtrack)

**** ‘The puppets, which Guthrie dubs ‘transitional objects’, paradoxically make the drama more human’ (Artsdesk)

Audience reaction:

‘Still thinking about @AAMorchestra‘s stunning Dido & Aeneas @BarbicanCentre last night, complete with unexpected but very effective puppetry. A powerful and thought-provoking performance’

‘Breathtaking #dido@BarbicanCentre  last night. With visionary production from @bastianboytg and craft from @aamand singers it will stay with me for a very long time. And the first half was also so moving and beautiful…#lipquiver’

‘Astounding Dido and Aeneas from @AAMorchestra @BarbicanCentre. Compelling, haunting, and thought-provoking. Loved. Every. Single. Minute.’

‘Really loved @AAMorchestra‘s Dido and Aeneas tonight @BarbicanCentre. Thought Thomas Guthrie and Richard Egarr’s invented funeral for Dido was genius – I was devastated Dido was dead before the opera even began (spoiler alert?)’

‘Thank you @AAMorchestra for a superb Dido and Aeneas at #barbicancentre tonight.’

‘Tonight’s Dido and Aeneas @BarbicanCentre used large hand puppets to act and express emotion while singers holding them just sang. What was astonishing is that this made the performance so deeply moving. Can’t believe such an original production will only have one performance.’

‘An absolutely magical performance of Dido and Aeneas from @AAMorchestra this evening. So glad to have been there.’

‘What a fantastic surprise. Last minute front row tickets from a friend to Thomas Guthrie’s ‘Dido and Aeneas’. Beautiful dynamic delivery of the Purcell –  v moving.’