A recreated version of the famous opera Orfeo revealed a spectacle built on a reciprocal understanding between Occidental and Indian music and culture. A review by manjari sinha


The Neemrana Music Foundation, in association with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and Institut Francais, premiered its latest production Orfeo Crossing the Ganges, an opera in five acts composed by Claudio Monteverdi, at Kamani auditorium on 25 September followed by repeat “house-full” shows on 26 and 27 September to meet the enthusiastic response of music lovers of the Capital.

 The impressive production will later be taken to the Cite de la Musique, Paris on 5 October. Produced by Francis Wacziarg, founder and managing trustee of Neemrana Music Foundation and conceived by Francoise Lasserre, who is also the music director and conductor of the opera, Orfeo Crossing the Ganges is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, the unique love story that inspired the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi to merge the arts of poetry, theatre and music for the first time, to give birth to the first ever opera Orfeo in 1607.  The beautifully recreated version, Orfeo Crossing the Ganges, has an Indian touch, performed by more than 50 Indo-French artists along with Arushi Mudgal, the talented Odissi dancer from India. 

The opera opens with the melodious prelude composed by Pt Madhup Mudgal in the morning ragas Ahir Bhairav, Deshkar and Saraswati, where a temple dancer (Aruishi) is offering invocation to Natraj (the Lord of Dance) and the holy river Ganga, at the banks of Ganges in Benaras, when Orfeo comes in search of his beloved wife Eurydice and mistakes the dancer to be her with a passionate embrace. The shocked dancer runs away but keeps haunting Orfeo throughout the story till it reaches the climax when the dancer mourns his unfortunate death and realizes that she too has love and compassion for Orfeo in her heart.  

 The role of Orfeo (tenor) was played by the versatile Hungarian vocalist Dávid Szigetvári, Eurydice (soprano), by Nitya Urbanna Vaz from India, who has been sent on scholarship to France to study opera music by the Neemrana Music Foundation, Musica and Messagiera (soprano) is played by Claire Lefilliâtre, Preserpina (soprano) is by Aude Priya, Ninfa and Merula (soprano) is by Dagmar Saskova, Speranza and Pastor (soprano) is by Jean-Christophe Clair, Pastor and Spirto (tenor) is by Jan Van Elsacker, Pastor and Spirto (tenor) is by Johannes Weiss, Caronte, Pastor and Spirto (bass) is by Hugo Oliveira and Plutone (bass) is by Geoffroy Buffière. 

The live orchestra consisted of Murad Ali on Sarangi, Sanjeev and Ashwini Shankar on Shehenai, Mithilesh Jha on Tabala, Mohan Shyam Sharma on Pakhawaj and a couple of Tanpura players along with 18 instrumentalists of Akademia from France and the well-groomsed Neemrana Vocal Ensemble from Delhi. The specialty of this production was also the use of very rare and old musical instruments of the time of Monteverdi such as Lirone, Cornet, Viola de Gamba, Theorbo and the Harpsichord et al that came from abroad along with the musicians and fascinated the Indian audiences. The Indian and the Western classical music maintain their own identity without any fusion, was a great idea. In fact the amazing similarity between the Italian Baroque music and the Indian classical music allowed them both to gel so well, maintaining the exact pitch during the change over from Indian to Western classical. 

In Orfeo crossing the Ganges, the stage director François Rancillac and Music Director Françoise Lasserre revealed a spectacle built on a reciprocal understanding between Occidental and Indian music and culture. This link between the two worlds was reinforced by the Indian and European cast, trained on several occasions by Françoise Lasserre and Nadya Balyan choir conductor during workshops held in India during the last few months. No wonder the well-rehearsed and meticulously presented Opera left a magical spell that will last for a long time.