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Review: NZ Opera and Black Grace’s (m)Orpheus

The story of Orpheus dates back to Ancient Greece and it’s a tale of deep love and grief. In the late 1700s Christoph Gluck composed an opera based on the classic saga which this year, NZ Opera has reworked with a modern and local twist. 

In this incarnation, Orpheus (Samson Setu) is heartbroken over the death of his wife Eurydice (Deborah Wai Kapohe). Despite the efforts of other mourners, he is inconsolable and feels he can’t continue to live without his beloved. 

The goddess of love, Amor (Madison Nonoa) appears and apparently moved by Orpheus’ grief tells him he can visit the underworld and bring his wife back with him.

There’s a catch, of course there’s a catch. For an unexplained reason, he must bring her back without looking at her or telling her what’s going on or she will die again and it will be his fault.  Sounds simple right?  Well, this is opera, so clearly this won’t be as easy as it sounds. 

Getting to the underworld is not a simple task, Orpheus has a ‘sing off’ with some guardian spirits who seem to delight in saying ‘no’ to every request he makes but ultimately relent because they too are touched by his genuine remorse and sweet singing. 

Eventually Eurydice appears but she is clearly disoriented by her resurrection and it seems a bit of a drama queen. She demands her lover kiss her and pay her some attention and can’t understand why Orpheus won’t even look at her. They have a rip roaring spat in the bowels of Hades and Eurydice dies a second time. Once again, Amor arrives and promises it will all end happily.

I won’t complete the plot here as the rest of the story has a very interesting twist and I think you should just go and see it to find out what occurs.

So what is this production like?  

Well, it’s really innovative and rather brilliant. For one thing, unlike most NZ Opera shows this one is at the smaller ASB Waterfront theatre which gives the production a delightful intimacy.

The set is wondrously inventive. Four large movable square panels create different spaces at times and behind them a raised platform runs the length of the stage. The top of the platform  represents the real world and on it there is a single chair, and (spoiler) an old car. Underneath the platform but bolted to it is another chair and car but both are upside down and suspended above the stage floor. This mirror image represents the underworld. 

The costumes are simple but fetching and mostly black or white. Standing out quite dramatically however was Amor whose outfit included a fluro pink puffer jacket and bright orange boots – colours that matched her sass rather well. 

The music and the singing was divine and it was rather lovely to actually see the musicians who became characters themselves in the production. Melding the lovely choreography into the action and weaving touches of Samoan dance and culture into it gave this opera a wonderful sense of spirit and made it all seem so local and familiar. 

NZ Opera and Black Grace’s (m)Orpheus is a stylish, triumphant and emotional depiction of love and grief that feels fresh and also timeless. 

Photo credit – Andi Crown

(M)ORPHEUS 

Auckland 

6 – 10 September 2023

ASB Waterfront Theatre

Wellington 

20 – 23 September 2023

The Opera House

Tickets and more details

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