Nadezhda Karyazina and Chiara Skerath as Orphée and Eurydice in Zurich were designated ‘selige und unselige Geister’—blessed and wretched spirits. In the setting of a funeral-home cafeteria, wallpapered in characteristic style by Anna Viebrock, they took on a variety of roles: sinister thugs, serving staff, twitchy vagrants and smugglers of funerary urns. One of them, dressed as a spy, even blew up an urn using a remote device.
There were also musical and textual accretions—an aria from Pergolesi’s cantata Orfeo and extracts from both Cocteau’s Orphée (translated into German and staged as a dialogue between the actor Graham F. Valentine and, for some reason, a loudspeaker) and T.S. Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men. The Dance of the Blessed Spirits was announced by a radio presenter as a listener request and Eurydice, somewhat the worse for drink, made ‘Cet asile aimable et tranquille’ sound like a piece of Offenbach opéra bouffe. After the finale the curtain calls were replaced by a pizza delivery for the entire cast. All this parallel action could not conceal an essential lack of drama in the interpretation: Orphée, Eurydice and Amour turned up and sang their arias, but there was little interaction between them.
For his debut at oper zürich Stefano Montanari was conducting not the local period ensemble La Scintilla but the Philharmonia Zürich, which was probably in keeping with his choice of the 1859 Berlioz version of the score. His interpretation was cultivated, its theatricality never overstated, its tempos reflecting the production rather than functioning as a purely musical phenomenon.
The Orphée, Nadezhda Karyazina, was also appearing at Oper Zürich for the first time. She has gained her spurs in the young artists programmes at the Bolshoy and Covent Garden and as a company member in Hamburg. While she deployed her fine mezzo-soprano to generous effect in this version conceived for Pauline Viardot, her French was hit and miss and the gender-fluid nature of her costumes and hairstyles did
Opera, May 2021