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Opera Orphee, London Coliseum

Classic Cocteau film gets trademark treatment from Philip Glass

THE fourth and final staging of ENO's ambitious Orpheus Series is arguably the most anticipated yet.

When ENO last staged Glass, with Phelim McDermott’s production of Akhnaten earlier this year, it was a resounding success and is currently enjoying a run at New York's Metropolitan Opera House.

However its first three operas about the Orpheus legend have had mixed reviews with empty seats prompting ENO to sell tickets at half price.

So all eyes and ears are on Orphee, the two-act chamber opera based on French filmmaker Jean Cocteau's eponymous 1950 film with libretto drawn from its script, to redeem the run.

Director Netia Jones uses projections to show shots from the classic film set in post-war France that replaces the ancient Greek hero with a modern-era celebrity poet and his wife Eurydice, a bored housewife.

In Cocteau's version of the myth, Orpheus (Jean Marais) witnesses the death of a younger poet, Cegeste, who is killed during a drunken brawl at the ironically named Cafe of Poets after being run over by two motorcyclists.

The Princess or Death, played by the alluring María Casares, then takes Cegeste off in a Rolls Royce driven by her chauffeur Heurtebise (François Périer), who is an apparent symbol of Hades ferryman Charon, and Orpheus is invited along for the ride.

What follows is a magical tale in which mirrors act as gateways between the land of the living and the dead, the mirror being symbolic of death as we see ourselves get old in them while film itself having the power of bringing the dead back to life.

Beguiled by the Princess, Orpheus falls in love with her and shuns his wife Eurydice who in turn Heurtebise has fallen for.

Not the most epic of the composer's works, being based on a 90 minute film, Jones (who is also a consummate video and costume designer) and Lizzie Clachan's set is wonderfully Glassian with moving floors and screens, a platform that lowers from the stage's ceiling and projections of digital clocks.

Nicky Spence is a brilliant Heurtebise, donned imposingly in Gestapo-like garb, Nicholas Lester has a real likeness to Marais and Jennifer France's Princess/Death is as cold and enchanting as Casares.

Sarah Tynan's Eurydice wears a dress that matches the design of the table cloth and cushions at home, a nice reference to her domesticated life.

There's also a wonderful Kafkaesque moment when Death and Heurtebise are on trial in the Underworld, presided over by four stuffy old men.

However those not familiar with the surreal film, admittedly unwise if you're paying upwards of £100 for a ticket, will find the plot baffling.

Nevertheless, while stage adaptations of classic films - particularly ones as enigmatic as this - are often doomed to pale in comparison, Jones' production does it justice.


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