A spellbinding meeting of chamber music and opera, Musica Viva’s Voyage to the Moon was a cosmic musical sojourn quite unlike any other. An original libretto, written by playwright Michael Gow and inspired by Ariosto’s 16th-century epic Orlando furioso, was set to a pastiche of pre-existing Baroque sources including Handel, Vivaldi and Orlandini, performed with bags of personality and superb attention to detail by a three-strong cast of soprano Emma Matthews (playing both protagonist Orlando and Selena, Guardian of the Moon), mezzo Sally-Anne Russell (playing Orlando’s colleague Astolfo) and bass Jeremy Kleeman as the wise Magus.
The mis en scene at Angel Place included a stack of open roadie-cases and a spindly sculpture made of music stands, emphasising the on-the-road nature of the production; naturally, though, room was still left for opulence in the form of Christina Smith’s state-of-the-art costume designs and Matt Scott’s dazzling lighting, including starlight courtesy of a disco ball and a luminously textured moon.
Gow’s libretto balanced pathos with liberal helpings of comedy, as Astolfo and Magus travel to the moon in search of Orlando’s sanity, lost to madness as the result of having lost his love Angelica. Emma Matthews performed Orlando with wicked glee, her fiery, technicolour vibrato an ideal foil to Sally-Anne Russell’s syrupy resonance as Astolfo. Comic pantomime elements were captured with a knowing wink by Jeremy Kleeman, whose willingness to moonwalk MJ-style and pilot a roughshod chariot to the moon were more than matched by his imposing stage presence and vocal delivery.
As Selena, Guardian of the Moon, Matthews’ performance of ‘Who dares trespass in my kingdom?’ was outrageously technical, in a firework vocal display that could only be described as miraculous. Further highlights included Astolfo’s rousing ‘Stand and Fight’ and Magus’ wonderfully tender ‘Now may the storm be over’ at the opera’s climax.
Special mention must of course be made of musical director/harpsichordist Phoebe Briggs and her visibly joyous seven-piece ensemble, which throbbed with vivid colour and clockwork rhythmic precision. Emma Black’s virtuosic cor anglais in the Telemann Sinfonia (drawn from his oboe d’amore concerto in G major) made for particularly pleasurable listening.
Voyage to the Moon was a spectacularly entertaining experience, drawing together talent from all over the country to create an original gem which was so much more than the sum of its parts.
Voyage to the Moon | Saturday 27 February 2016 | City Recital Hall