Orfeo ed Euridice

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Miranda Heggie

Four stars

Performing with sparkle and sway, the English Concert, under the baton of Canadian conductor Bernard Labadie, along with a stellar trio of soloists, gave a splendid concert performance of Gluck’s Orfeo and Euridice. Opening with a crisp sound, Labadie began with quick, nimble movements, before settling into a smoother style. There was an excellent balance between choir and orchestra, with both producing a rich, honeyed timbre. The chorus, as the furies, were almost shouting at the start of Act Two, while accompanied by rough and ready, striking string chords. Moving on the scene two, tinkling harp playing - used to represent Orfeo’s lyre - was softly accompanied by pizzicato strings, and the oboe playing in Orfeo's "Che puro ciel" was beautifully rounded. There was indeed - as per part of the aria’s translation -‘sweet, enchanting harmony’ displayed in the orchestra, with little bubbles and flourishes underpinned by a steady continuo.

Counter-tenor Iestyn Davies was absolutely stunning as Orfeo, his impeccably clear vocal tones effortlessly rising over the orchestra. Sophie Bevan was equally compelling as Euridice, her rich, powerful voice conveying the character’s grief. Hers and Davies’s duets in Act Three were both powerful and poignant, and Bevan’s departure from the stage on Euridice’s death was effective in its simplicity. Singing the role of Amor, the god of love, the young English soprano Rowan Pierce was perhaps inevitably overshadowed by such well established singers, but her strong tone and authoritative stage presence surely bodes for us seeing exciting things from her in future years.

At the end of the opera, as Euridice is once again brought back to life and reconciled with her husband, the work drew to a resplendent, triumphant finish, as love conquers all.