The Il Corago team, led by Andrew Lawrence-King, seeks to create early opera productions based on principles including not just baroque ‘gesture’ but posture, eye-movements, and the performer’s intention, according to period sources such as treatises on theatre, libretti, sculpture and painting. In La Morte d’Orfeo, we were attempting not just to stage an entertainment, but to recapture and explore the whole late-Renaissance paradigm of theatre. “Your job is difficult,” we were told, “because you have two roles to play: your role in the opera, and your role as a baroque player.” To aid us on our journey we had not only the expert guidance of Andrew and Xavier Diaz Latorre (and also Katerina Antonenko), but incredible costumes and sets created by a Renaissance dance company based in Saint Petersburg called Il Vento del Tempo (who also choreographed and performed dances throughout the action).
The role I played was a charmingly comic one. Aurora (lit. The Dawn) refuses to get out of bed and holds up the action significantly while the river Hebro and various little breezes have to coax her out from under the covers, at which point she declares she isn’t sure why everybody is waiting around: it is, after all, Orpheus’ birthday! As I had massive jetlag and was napping under pianos during the breaks, there was room enough for teasing from my colleagues. Plus, as the sun rose about an hour and a half AFTER we began rehearsing each day, there were a couple of truly beautiful sunrises to inspire me.
It was a whirlwind fortnight, but at the end we managed to carve out about 36 hours to acquaint ourselves with some of the treasures of the city, which was a dream come true. It was also the first time I’d ever seen an ice floe, as the river in Salzburg moved way too fast to freeze over, but the River Neva does not. The morning before we flew out, in slightly painful sub-zero temperatures, we visited Tikhvin Cemetery and paid our respects to Tchaikovsky, Dostoyevsky, Mussorgsky and Borodin. It was a pretty gothic experience, being amongst the monuments in the snow, with single red carnations lying frozen atop some of the graves. As one of my Russian colleagues had said to me at the after-party, if I’m to visit Russia again (despite my protestations) it must be in winter, because the best of Russian tradition and culture is all based on the winter.
Initially sad that I wouldn’t get to see Saint Petersburg in its famous, well-touristed Summer form, I am glad now I got to see the city during this powerful and important season. I feel like I got to see a special side of it.