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A chamber opera in one act for soprano, tenor, baritone and bass soli, TTBB chorus and orchestra, commissioned for the Wells 800 Celebration in 1982. Libretto by Peter Porter.
Vocal score with piano reduction. Duration: c. 55 minutes.
Orpheus is a Chamber Opera, or perhaps more properly might be described as an ‘Opera-Cantata’. It is designed to be performed as a short opera, fully staged and costumed, or as a concert piece. Either way, its structure is dramatic, rather than reflective. It tells the story of Orpheus, probably the most familiar story in music, and en emblem of their art for composers of all periods, as a direct narrative. Since the legend is set in the world of pagan mythology, it has been lightly Christianised for its Church setting. The Aeneid has often been seen as speaking of Christ avant la lettre, and Renaissance Humanists were always willing to identify forerunners of Christian types in Classical personages: in this manner, Orpheus pursues, without undue emphasis, musical parallels with St Francis, St Cecilia and even Adam and Eve.
The work is framed briefly by a prologue and epilogue. The Prologue introduces the four solo singers – Hades (bass), Orpheus (tenor), Eurydice (soprano) and Charon (baritone). It also introduces the chorus who do not only portray, at various stages, Orpheus’s wedding companions, the denizens of Hell and Blessed Spirits in the Elysian Fields, but also comments on the action as it proceeds.