Courageous collaboration

Orpheus and Eurydice (Judith Wright Centre, Blue Roo Theatre Company and Opera Queensland)

Judith Wright Centre, Performance Space

December 1 – 3

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Theatre events don’t come more joyous than that realised in “Orpheus and Eurydice”. The rare collaboration sees a group of physically and intellectually disabled amateur performers from the inspiring Blue Roo Theatre Company performing alongside the state’s best operatic voices in staging a modified version of the 18th  century love story.

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The classic opera is a good choice; its story is a simple one, without any complex subplots and its scenes are packed with potential for emotional fulfilment. When Eurydice, Orpheus’ wife, dies, Orpheus, moved by his love decides to descend into the Underworld to bring her back. Hades, the ruler of the Underworld, agrees to let her go so long as Orpheus doesn’t gaze upon her until after she has re-entered the world of the living.

In this realisation, changes are made… beginning with a female Orpheus. The show does not suffer from the creative decision with Louise Dorsman still making for a conflicted Orpheus of powerful voice alongside Jessica Low’s soaring vocals as Eurydice. Their emotion-filled duet, with Eurydice fading in her love’s arms is a highlight on account of its moving intimacy. Indeed, all of the Opera Q principal vocalists are excellent in conveying the emotional journey of the main characters.

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The Blue Roo ensemble members, meanwhile, accompany Opera Q with gusto, assuming roles as the story’s fabled creatures, which they embody through gesture and physicality. And while as heavenly blessed sprits all dressed in white, they add much to the mood, it is clear that what they relish most is being the vicious furies blocking Orpheus’s path. After eight months of rehearsal to get the show ready, their outpouring of excitement and expanded personalities highlight the charisma that makes for much of the show’s success.

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The point of opera is that people are moved by the emotions and music. Accordingly, further adding to the collaboration, the new English translation of the opera is supported by a live orchestra of outstanding local musicians. The music gives a seriousness to story that could otherwise be dismissed as melodrama, yet provides whimsical moments of beauty in the blessed spirits scenes, thanks to the light touch of its strings and flute sounds.

Although there is much occupying the stage, with over two dozen ensemble members, a band of musicians, an Ausland interpreter and big screen for share of the opera’s English translation, staging remains relatively simple in support of the story’s varied emotional states. Josh Bilyj’s lighting design lifts Orpheus’ perilous journey across the River Styx yet also stunningly conveys the burning savagery of Gates of Hades

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Blue Roo’s work to redefine inclusive community engagement is certainly important and this celebration of its ensemble members and their passion for performance represents all that is good about the arts. “Orpheus and Eurydice” is a unique and heart-warming inclusive theatre production, inspired in its conception and inspiring in its realisation, sure to stay with audience members long after the show ends. Making the arts accessible to all, both on-stage and in the audience is a courageous aspiration, not because many of the people involved have disabilities but because of where they dare to go with their ambition.

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