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 in between’, 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, the L’Orfeo project included outreach workshops with adults with learning disabilities and those new to opera, including at the LSO Monday Club and Claremont Project.
Participants responded 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, included autism-friendly adaptions to the space and production, with expert advice from autism support charity SIGNAL.