A groundbreaking new staging of Monteverdi’s opera Orpheus is set to open at Opera North in Leeds this October, before touring northern theatres alongside Verdi’s La traviata, and concerts of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice.

Orpheus, a reimagining of one of the earliest surviving operas, Monteverdi’s 1607 work L’Orfeo, weaves a new musical and dramatic tapestry from western and Indian classical music. The new version will feature additional composition and arrangements by Jasdeep Singh Degun, working as co-Music Director with early music expert Laurence Cummings. The opera will be sung in Italian and Urdu, with additional sections sung in Hindi, Tamil, Malayam, Punjabi and Bengali. There will be English titles at all performances.

Some passages of the opera are being rescored and arranged for Indian classical instruments including the sitar, tabla and tar shehnai, in addition to western baroque instruments such as harpsichord, theorbo and lirone. The project has grown out of Opera North’s longstanding collaborative relationship with South Asian Arts-uk, a Leeds based centre of excellence in Indian classical music.

In a production directed by Anna Himali Howard with sets and costumes by Leslie Travers, the setting of one of the most famous Greek myths is relocated to a contemporary wedding party in a British garden.

The opera takes place on the day of the wedding of Orpheus, a musician of mythical power, to Eurydice. But their joy is shattered when Eurydice dies suddenly, and Orpheus, heartbroken, vows to travel to the Underworld to find his new wife and return her to life.

An onstage orchestra of 19 players includes a baroque ensemble of violin, viola, cello, bass, trumpet, percussion, harp, harpsichord, lirone and theorbo, as well as Indian classical instruments including sitar, tabla, santoor, esraj and bansuri.

The intimate scale, partially improvised and collaborative nature of early opera, where performers were not expected to follow a formal score, offers creative opportunities for Monteverdi’s music to be performed alongside the Indian classical melodic and rhythmical frameworks of raag and taal. Discovering the meeting point for these two traditions and shaping their musical encounter are joint music directors Laurence Cummings, music director of the Academy of Ancient Music, and Jasdeep Singh Degun, a Leeds-born composer and virtuoso sitar player.


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