ORFEO

DIRECTOR: Jaco Brouwer

CONDUCTOR: Erik Dippenaar

CAST: Members of Cape Town Opera and Camerata Tinta Barocca

CHOREOGRAPHER: Ina Wichterich

VENUE: Artscape Theatre

UNTIL: Saturday

RATING: 4 stars (out of 5)

BY BEVERLEY BROMMERT

LOVE it or loathe it, Jaco Brouwer’s Orfeo is so unconventional that indifference is not an option when assessing its impact.

As one might expect from a director of Brouwer’s innovative audacity, this earliest complete work in the operatic repertoire is not treated as a period piece, despite the fidelity to authentic sound generated by the accompanying ensemble, Camerata Tinta Barocca.

Their musicianship under the direction of Erik Dippenaar is a sterling feature: subtle, suave, expressive and true to the sonorities of early Baroque, it enchants the ear from the warble of mimetic birdsong prefacing the prologue, through the sombre tones of Act 4 evoking the Underworld, to the serene finale.

Wichterich’s choreography matches the authenticity of the music, featuring stylised gesture, repetition and tableaux.In stark contrast to this historically informed approach, the staging is a reflection of contemporary society. The cast are seen with their cellphones and sporting garish sneakers. There is, however, an element of archaic staging in the manual assembling and dismantling of sets, the use of stuffed birds and wildlife, a naively painted backdrop and one-dimensional rocks to suggest the woodlands of Thrace.

This is of a piece with the deconstructive thrust of Brouwer’s design and direction, presenting a performance context innocent of AV and any technology exploited by modern theatre-makers. Here is a philosophical exercise rather than the simple representation of a Greek myth, a myth transformed into an allegory of the artistic endeavour that brings an elusive image (Eurydice) from darkness (Hades) to light, only to lose it again.

Despite references to Orpheus’s golden lyre, the main protagonist is portrayed as a practitioner of visual art, apron-clad and working in an atelier with fellow artists curating the myth of Orpheus. Johannes Slabbert excels as Orfeo. Also noteworthy are Jacobi de Villiers (Proserpina), Kabelo Lebyana (Carone) and Lesego Mkhwanazi as the sadistic Plutone. When a myth from ancient Greece is reworked in the 21st Century with music from the 17th, a strong case is made for the timelessness of art.