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Culture in France

Monteverdi’s Orfeo revisited at Bouffes du Nord theatre

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The play 'Orfeo: Je suis mort en Arcadie' runs until 5 February 2017 at Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris.
The play 'Orfeo: Je suis mort en Arcadie' runs until 5 February 2017 at Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord in Paris. © Jean-Louis Fernandez

Mythical Orpheus and Eurydice are the only more or less classically performed characters in Orfeo: Je suis mort en Arcadie (Orfeo: I am dead/died in Arcadia), the latest opera-theatre piece from La Vie Brève (Short Life) Company based in Valence in southern France and directed by Samuel Achache and Jeanne Candel.

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Jan Peters who plays Orfeo in a collectively created production says, “Orpheus is voice, music. He has to be the central element… he only sings.”

The story of the two lovers takes place in Arcadia, an ancient Greek paradise where a dozen actors and musicans stretch vocal and other chords and clown around.

Anne-Lise Heimburger squeaks and squawks and coos convincingly as Calliope, poet’s muse and Orpheus’ mother, Vladislav Galard as crazy Pan, in underwear and as a more straight Kharon, the ferryman and Léo-Antonin Lutinier in energetic clown mode as Cerebus, the three-headed guard-dog of Hades. Orpheus is the straight guy.

“He doesn’t need to be funny, the others are funny”, says Peters, “for Pan the tragedy is worse”.

They are true enough to the basic story however. Orpheus marries Eurydice, she dies from a snake-bite and goes to the underworld.

Orpheus charms the keepers of the underworld with his song and words and is allowed to take his bride back up to Arcadia, on one condition – that he doesn’t turn round to look at her until they reach the surface. Of course, he can’t resist, looks at her and looses her a second time.

La Vie Brève’s exploration of voice and the sounds of which it is capable is accompanied and punctuated by music, by string and wind instruments and percussion. Saxophonist and singer Lawrence Williams says, “we are exploring the relationship between theatre and music.”

Neither classical nor opera, Orfeo:je suis mort en Arcadie is a condensed cabaret of original composition of past stagecraft and present, with catches of baroque.

At Le Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord until 5 February 2017.

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