Festival Music

Orfeo

Usher Hall

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Keith Bruce

five stars

YET another extraordinary evening of opera in the Usher Hall, and one that took a packed house back to the very beginnings of the artform. At the start of this millennium it is unlikely that a performance of Monteverdi's 1607 version of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice would have filled Edinburgh's big hall, but any reservations that conductor John Eliot Gardiner's visionary staging required a more intimate arena proved groundless.

With tambor and trumpets opening proceedings up by the organ, the elegantly costumed singers of the Monteverdi Choir processing to the platform through the auditorium, and a 40-plus edition of the English Baroque soloists split into two groups on either side of the stage, this Orfeo looked made for the venue. It is no longer just Jordi Savall who makes early music party time, and this score opened and closed with scenes of dancing and celebration in the fields of Thrace, after Czech soprano Hana Blazikova, who will sing Euridice, has delivered the prologue as "La Musica" which simply explains what opera is.

Gardiner and his superb international cast then deliver the goods, with consummate style. Polish tenor Krystian Adam was supposedly not feeling his best, a pre-show announcement had warned, but I doubt anyone in the hall would have suspected from his effortless high notes and expressive acting. The cast was without a weak link, but Italian bass Gianluca Buratto's Caronte the boatman stood out, as did Korean counter-tenor Kangmin Justin Kim as Speranza, while French mezzo Lucile Richardot brought a lovely tone to the bleak tidings of Messaggera.

The range of colours in the continuo playing – harpsichords, organ, harp, theorbo and low strings – and the virtuosity of the whole ensemble was a delight. And there are still two more in Monteverdi 450 series to come.