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I am Orfeo? – Monteverdi’s and Striggio’s opera performed by one singer and three musicians.

Idea/Concept – Elisabeth Holmertz

Music – Claudio Monteverdi, arrangements by Ensemble Odd Size

Libretto – Alessandro Striggio

”The tree with a name” – film by Wolfgang Lehmann

Staging – Hanne Dieserud

Storyteller – Elisabeth Holmertz

Orchestra, nymphs and shepherds – Ensemble Odd Size Per Buhre (baroque violin, viola, vocals), Fredrik Bock (Lute, baroque guitar, vocals), Johannes Lundberg (Double bass, vocals)

The teaser

When Monteverdis opera about the singing half god premiered in 1607

all roles were sung by men

Here one woman becomes them all

or do they become her?

I am just Elisabeth. Standing on stage, now, in this moment, together with my dear friends. 

Now, when I’ve embodied Orfeo so many times, I feel a tenderness towards him. He is full of himself, but he is also full of love for Euridice and the whole world. Him, I and the rest of us are We. We are happy, happy, happy!! No. Not happy. Tragedy. I stumble, my voice is suddenly shrill and sharp. I sing with a lump in my throat and panic in my heart. The dramatic movements with my arms, give my voice an extra shrill note. The almost falling, the leaning forward, affects my voice as if it is crying.

At this moment, I’m private. Yes, yes,  I know, I know!! But how can I shield myself from my own experience, when it helps me meet Orfeo? How can I protect myself from the sudden emotion of a loss? I feel for Orfeo, and I feel for myself. I feel for everyone in the room who lost someone. My voice is almost not there.

I hear Caronte approaching. Bring him on. Let me dig into my muddy darkness with a barking, hissing, bellowing sound. Oh, it’s such a relief to be…ugly! Brrrrrraaaaouuuuullll! The power that lies in having given up; he couldn’t care less about anyone (not least himself). I am almost embarrassed at how easily we get along, Caronte and I. We form a pact, molded by our envy, bitterness, rage… Bark, bark, bark! Go away! Leave us alone!

The different components in this project are coming together, but I am falling apart. 

I’ve given up on trying to hide my self.  A voice is a Voice. It says words, it screams ugly things, it expresses emotions, it gets examined and interpreted.

I am a man now. Is it politically correct of me to admit that I feel powerful because of the masculinity written in the music, and in our interpretation of it? The women in this cast are sweet, and very feminine. They are maybe even more so because they were performed by an all-male cast in 1607 – the differences between the men and the women thus had to be sharper – the women more feminine and the men more masculine. Singing the roles of men is annoyingly, cringingly, satisfying. I am not proud of myself for saying it

Orfeo turns. I see myself on the screen, through Wolfgang’s eyes. Elisabeth/Euridice/Proserpina is looking at me. I am Orfeo looking at Euridice. Me, seen through the lens of someone else and interpreted by another artist.

The Otherness of the self. 

A voce sola in dialogo.

Is it no longer I who am Orfeo, but Orfeo who is me? Or? No? Orfeo, the Narcissist? Or am I the narcissist? Who is it that the audience is seeing? Me or the one I’m impersonating’?

Am I Orfeo? So what? It’s just a role.

The performance was part of the artistic research project ”The Otherness of the self – how to curate a 17th century opera and sing all the roles yourself.” PhD in Performance 2020, Norwegian Academy of Music.

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