Running over all four nights of the festival in Henham Park, Suffolk, Underworld is an audio-visual installation based on Monteverdi’s 1607 opera L’Orfeo. This pioneering early Renaissance work is a version of the classical legend of the musician and poet Orpheus, who descended into Hades in an attempt to bring his dead bride Eurydice back to the living world.
A story of love, longing and the inability to come to terms with grief, it has resonated across thousands of years, from the earliest known mention in the 6th century BC, through the ancient Breton tale Sir Orfeo, to Jean Cocteau’s film trilogy and Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge.
At the centre of the installation in the Faraway Forest is the River Styx, the threshold between the living world and the Underworld, guarded by Charon, the ferryman of Hades. Orpheus, sung by English baritone Simon Keenlyside, pleads with Charon to allow him to cross into the Underworld in an intensely powerful aria known as "Possente spirto" ("Mighty spirit”). The recording was originally made for She, So Beloved, an installation by cult animators The Brothers Quay, commissioned by Opera North to mark the 400th anniversary of L'Orfeo in 2007.
The voice of Orpheus’ dead love Eurydice, almost silent in Monteverdi’s opera, comes to life in this installation as befits a ghost, in fragments and echoes whispering between the trees. Sung by soprano Paula Sides, this Eurydice conjures herself up from the shadows, singing snatches of the opera mingled with other versions of the legend. Among these, the American modernist poet H.D.’s personal take on the story imagines Eurydice in fury at the “arrogance” and “ruthlessness” of the hero for wanting to drag her back to the world above.
In contrast to this uncanny realm is the courtly atmosphere of Act 1 of the opera: a strangely formal drawing room in the middle of a woodland.
Jo Nockels, Producer and Opera North Projects Manager, comments:
Latitude Festival has become firmly established as one of Opera North’s most exciting summer venues. The Faraway Forest is a magical environment in which to draw out the power, drama and enchantment of opera-up-close, for the musically curious and adventurous audiences who come to the festival.
We were delighted by the response of our audience at last year’s festival, when we filled the Faraway Forest with the sounds of pre-war Eastern Europe from a haunted bandstand. We hope to repeat the magic with this year’s installation, which will be even more immersive, and taking place over all four nights.
Now in its twelfth year, Latitude Festival will feature over 750 acts across 15 stages, taking in music, comedy, film, literature and performance of all kinds. Opera North joins Sadler’s Wells, the Royal Court Theatre, Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures and many more in the festival’s adventurous arts programme.
Opera North presents Underworld at Latitude Festival’s Faraway Forest from Thursday 13 to Sunday 16 July. For more information and to book tickets, visit the festival website.
I Am Yours, Yours Am I - Opera North's commission for Latitude 2015. Photograph by Victor Frankowski.
Orpheus And Eurydice by Edward Poynter, 1862.
The One Who Loves and Lets Go - Opera North's commission for Latitude 2016. Photograph by Opera North.
Music from Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi with additional music by Timothy Burke
Musical Director: Timothy Burke
Technical Director and sound design: Jamie Saye
Production Manager: Kev Cooke
Voices: Paula Sides and Simon Keenlyside
Harpsichord: Timothy Burke
Lighting: Ben Everett
Production Rib Boat: Tobias Melville
Eurydice image: Catrin Welz-stein
Produced by Jo Nockels and Kathryn Gasic for Opera North Projects
Poetry extracts from Eurydice by H.D.
Production staff: Jane Earnshaw and Lorna Johnstone
Crew: Alex Perry, David Ardern