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400-year-old Orpheus opera to 'rock' London venue where Hendrix played

/ Source: Reuters

LONDON (Reuters) - One of the world's first operas is coming to a London venue made famous by Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison: Monteverdi's 400-year-old "Orfeo" opens at the Roundhouse on Tuesday.

Theater director Michael Boyd, a veteran of Shakespeare stagings who is directing his first opera, thinks the converted former railway shed is especially suited to the 17th-century work, which is about Orpheus's descent into the underworld to try to rescue his wife Euridice.

"I was certainly nervous about bringing a courtly opera into the space that's hosted Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison but I couldn't resist the challenge," Boyd, who is staging the work jointly for the Royal Opera as well the Roundhouse, told Reuters during a rehearsal break.

The audience-in-the-round setup, with seating for about 1,500, is almost sold out for all eight performances, he said. The stage configuration helps, as in Shakespeare, to break down the barrier between the audience and the performers, he added.

"There is a sort of cavernous aspect to the space that's well suited to the underworld," he said, adding that the singers would have to be amplified, but so subtly that few will notice.

Set designer Tom Piper, who has collaborated with Boyd since the 1990s, has had to be especially creative.

There are almost no props, except for a huge walkway which Orpheus uses to walk from the extremities of the theater toward Hades(or Hell), which is at the back of the round stage.

Along Orpheus's journey, teenage dancers recruited from local schools roll around on the stage to represent the waves of the Styx, the river between the loving world and the underworld.

In one bit of stagecraft, two girls are lifted upside down on the shoulders of other dancers and each of the girls arches a leg toward the other until the soles of their feet touch - to represent the gates of Hades.

"I think people will be very interested in seeing how we create a sense of storytelling in the space," English bass James Platt, who sings the role of Charon, the ferryman who carries souls across the Styx for a fee.

"Orfeo' was very fresh for its time, very different, and I think you can still hear that now - the orchestration is very vivid and the effects are very vivid, both for Monteverdi's time, and for now."

(Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)