By Michael Roddy
LONDON (Reuters) - Peruvian tenor Juan Diego Florez, beloved of opera audiences for his command of the high registers, made a soaring stage debut as Orpheus in Gluck's "Orphee et Eurydice" on Monday as the Royal Opera opened its 2015-16 season with a bang.
In the role of the mythic master of song who descends to the underworld to rescue his wife who has died of a viper's venom, Florez received a huge ovation for his singing of a part that is sometimes performed by a soprano or a counter-tenor.
As it did for its season opener last year with a revival of "Anna Nicole" about the American topless model Anna Nicole Smith and her marriage to an 80-year-old billionaire, the Royal Opera aimed its opening night squarely at the younger generation - or people of any age with a taste for the unconventional.
In its new staging of the Bavarian-born Christoph Willibald Gluck's 1774 work, American soprano Amanda Forsythe sings the role of Amour (Love) dressed in a gold lame suit while British soprano Lucy Crowe sings Eurydice garbed in a ball gown.
The Royal Opera's own orchestra, chorus and dancers got to take the night off.
The conducting honors went to John Eliot Gardiner, a specialist in creating the sound worlds of the past. He brought along his Monteverdi Choir and his English Baroque Soloists, the latter performing much of the time on a platform in the middle of the stage.
That left the opera's orchestra pit available for the ROH to sell 80 standing room places to students for 10 pounds ($15.40)each - part of its efforts to reach new audiences.
But perhaps the bigger draw was the involvement of London-based Israeli choreographer Hofesh Shechter, whose dance shows have sold out rock-and-pop venues in London and Berlin. Shechter made his opera co-directing debut in this production, with veteran director John Fulljames.
Dance was an important part of French operas in Gluck's time, so Shechter and his dancers had plenty of opportunity. Some of his choreography seemed inspired by club dance, while at other times his dancers moved almost in stop motion, as if caught in a strobe light.
And just when their routines seemed far removed from Gluck's world, the dancers would do something that resembled a minuet or other period dance.
Kasper Holten, the Royal Opera's Director of Opera, said he hoped the opening night audience would feel it was a memorable occasion.
"It's about finding something very special to open the season, and I think we achieved that last year and I certainly hope we're doing so this year," he said.
(Michael Roddy is the Entertainment Editor for Reuters in Europe. The views expressed are his own)
(Editing by Ken Wills)