Opera review: L’Orfeo

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Edinburgh International Festival: It’s maybe a missed opportunity that Edinburgh isn’t celebrating Monteverdi with a fully staged opera production to mark his 450th anniversary year, but a week with three concert performances led by John Eliot Gardiner isn’t too shabby a birthday present.

Usher Hall

****

The first of these, L’Orfeo, opened to an arresting brass fanfare from a line of sackbuts positioned high up in the organ gallery, giving an immediate sense of the dramatic style conceived by Eliot Gardiner and co-director Elsa Rooke.

Utilising whatever the Usher Hall could offer, the chorus processed in from the stalls, singers appeared in lofty platforms, while at the centre of it all were the period instrumentalists of the English Baroque Soloists, split into two groups with the action taking place around them. A visual as well as musical delight, the sounds of strings mixed with recorders, cornettos and giant lute-like chitaronni had a glowing incandescence, Eliot Gardiner’s dignified pacing bringing crafted excitement to Monteverdi’s score.

If costumes looked like they’d come from a forgotten corner of the wardrobe store, the Monteverdi Choir’s singing was fresh and bright in compensation. Among the soloists, Krystian Adam was outstanding as an emotionally sensitive, and determined, Orfeo.