We’ve seldom gone to so much trouble to see an opera, and seldom enjoyed one more.
As the gates opened for the Utrechtse Spelen production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice by the lake behind Soestdijk Palace, so did the heavens. The audience was drenched before the show began.
It’s the chance you take when you stage an outdoor performance, particularly in the Netherlands. It’s been a long, wet summer – typical for this country.
Mevrouw T had heard about this production last year, but unfortunately it was well and truly sold out by then. Audiences topped 75,000. The Utrechtse Spelen can honestly claim they brought it back by popular demand.
This year we got in early. We were so excited about having tickets that we left our umbrellas and rain jackets at home. Staff thoughtfully issued us with blankets and emergency plastic ponchos, but the damage had been done.
The storm passed, the sky cleared, we wiped down our seats and admired the setting.
Soestdijk Palace, about 35km south east of Amsterdam, was established as a royal hunting lodge in 1650. It became the home of Dutch royals Queen Juliana and Prince Bernhard from 1937 until their deaths in 2004, with a short break during the German occupation in the war years.
Now it’s open to the public, and the theatre company came up with the brilliant idea of using its lake and gardens as the setting for this production.
We guessed we were in for something special when a large and beautiful owl flew over the lake, just as Orfeo arrived in his boat, then settled on the island beside him to listen to his opening aria (and enjoy the scraps Orfeo fed him).
Things became even more spectacular when Amore, looking suspiciously like Queen Juliana in gumboots, rode her bicycle, headlamp bobbing, a couple of hundred metres across the water.
So it went on, with surprise after surprise, fire on the water, gushing fountains and brilliant lighting highlighting the magnificent beech trees surrounding the lake.
Oh, and the singing was good too.
The rain tumbled down again. The performers valiantly carried on. They’d spent most of the show with at least their feet in the water anyway, but it was a heroic effort.
We huddled under our emergency ponchos and sat it out, then applauded their efforts warmly. Super show!
I love companies that take on the challenge of performing in non-traditional spaces. There are often enormous logistical difficulties as well as great costs involved in importing sets, lighting, dressing rooms, toilets and seating.
And having been involved years ago in some of Nimrod Theatre’s outdoor productions on Clark Island in Sydney Harbour I know how a wet week can put a big hole in your budget. Bad weather insurance is prohibitively expensive, so you just have to chance it.
It’s a big risk, but the reward is that the environment becomes a vital part of the experience.
Orfeo ed Euridice will not be repeated next year, but we wish de Utrechtse Spelen well in their efforts to come up with something equally compelling. Bravo!
Photography was naturally and rightly prohibited during the performance, but here’s the official promo video from YouTube: