By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - It was a new kind of career high for Hungarian-Romanian tenor Gyula Orendt, singing while suspended in a sling some 20 feet (6 m) above the stage as he reached down for his beloved Euridice in a knockout new version of Monteverdi's "Orfeo".
London's Royal Opera House, in conjunction with the theater and pop music venue the Roundhouse, conjured up a magical presentation of the world's first opera on Tuesday about Orpheus's trip to the underworld to rescue his dead bride.
"It's modern both musically and in the staging, too," Orendt, 29, said following his jaw-dropping performance in the finale where he sings for five minutes while held aloft in a sling that is meant to be raising him to the heavens.
"I find it quite relaxing to find a new position where singing can still function," he said, adding that with one false move "I could break my neck, it's as easy as that".
The production is part of the Royal Opera's push to bring opera to new audiences in new venues.
As part of that push, last year's hugely popular production of Francesco Cavalli's "L'Ormindo" in the candle-lit Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at Shakespeare's Globe is being revived in February.
"I think for certain pieces there are other spaces that are just better" than the opera house, the ROH's music director Antonio Pappano said. "If we can at the same time conjure up a new audience or a different audience, that's all the better."
There is common DNA to "L'Ormindo" and "Orfeo" in the presence of the Orchestra of the Early Opera Company. The ensemble, conducted by Christopher Moulds, fills the cavernous Roundhouse - where the sound has been discreetly amplified - with the lilting sounds of lutes, an organ-like "regal", a harp, brass players, recorders, sackbuts, two harpsichords and other period instruments.
The young singers are energetic, with Orendt, whose trilling coloratura is effective whether on stage or above it, a standout.
British soprano Mary Bevan was a convincing Euridice while British bass James Platt as Charon sturdily barred Orpheus's way into Hades to rescue her - until ordered to let him in by British bass-baritone Callum Thorpe.
The messenger who gives Orpheus the bad news that Euridice had died of a snake bite was sung with authority by British opera veteran Susan Bickley.
Michael Boyd directed, with stage design by Tom Piper. Nine singers from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama formed the chorus while the waves of the River Styx and the gates of Hades were inventively conjured up as human building blocks by young dancers from East London Dance.
(Michael Roddy is the arts and entertainment editor for Reuters in Europe. The views expressed are his own.)
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)