Vache Baroque Festival marked its third year with a theatrically entertaining production of Charpentier’s La descente d’Orphée aux enfers underpinned with fine musicianship and elegant singing.
The predominantly, but not totally, young cast was both fresh and enthusiastic, with some particularly impressive singing for this rare performance of the delicate chamber opera. Music director and festival co-founder Jonathan Darbourne led his musicians including three viola da gamba players from the harpsichord in a show that rightly kept the musicians central to the performance, neatly portrayed as the MAC (Marc-Antoine Charpentier) showband. For the wedding the band wore snazzy colours, and the wedding guests, including dancers Fi Silverthorn and Kenji Matsunaga, bopped around with hip and interpretive movements. Then in Hades the musicians remained as the band but in deathly white with their music stand initials reversed.
In Jeanne Pansard-Besson’s direction, this concept was carried throughout with the designs of Laura Jane Stanfield such as the pastel shades of the wedding party guests became a variety of monochrome quasi baroque commedia dell’arte comedic/ tragic Arlecchino costumes, including those of Ixion, Tantale and Titye (well-taken by Alexander Chance, Lars Fischer and Jamie Woollard) representing their eternal fates in the Underworld.
Samuel Boden gave a mesmerising vocal performance in the title role, you could understand how even the imposing Pluton of stalwart Henry Waddington, and Lila Chrisp’s imposing Proserpine, could not fail to be moved. Lauren Lodge-Campbell sang beautifully as Euridice. It also helped in this very up-close-and-personal outdoor performance that the idyllic perfect young lovers looked the part as well.
The singers’ enunciation of this little jewel of the French Baroque repertoire was crystal clear while conveying the emotions of the work; love, loss, despair and yearning.
Lauren Lodge-Campbell and Samuel Boden
The importance of opportunities to perform as part of the development of emerging artists, and the commitment to the baroque, were also seen in a charming performance of Carissimi’s oratorio Jephte, and instrumental recitals (and introduction to the less familiar instruments). Our Euridice also sang the doomed Filia to Lars Fischer’s distraught Jepthe. The young tenor also took the role of Tantale in Orphée. Naho Koizumi and Katie-Louise Dobson were both a delight in Jepthe and with roles of Daphne and Enone in Orphée.
While the Orphée was presented on a covered stage with the softly lit backdrop of the historic Vache manor, the Jephte and recital by members of the Vache Baroque Band, was in a picturesque grove in the Buckinghamshire estate grounds. The grounds were also imaginatively used for a variety of installations on the themes of the works, oaths, marriage, baroque composition and also a fun trip to a small island in the ornamental lake to toast marshmallows in the fires of Hades. The coin for the boatman was provided as you entered the festival and then were given your marshmallow in exchange by Charon.
The gods smiled on the event and added to the atmosphere of the main performance; the sun coming out for Orphée and Euridice’s prettily staged wedding and then the rain clouds threatening for the young hero descent to Hades. It would seem the gods of the rain clouds were as charmed as the players (and audience) by Samuel Boden’s Orphée and the deluge failed to materialise.
Images by The Photography Shed