Rehearsals are well underway for A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice, which is being created in collaboration with South Asian Arts-uk. Inspired by the timeless tale of the two star-crossed lovers, the 45-minute show will take audiences on an unforgettable journey celebrating love, music and storytelling.
To find out more, we got together with Nicholas Watts and Ashnaa Sasikaran who take on the roles of Orpheus and Eurydice in both this show and Orpheus which opens on the mainstage in the autumn, and director Simone Ibbett-Brown.
A pop-up version of the Greek myth, A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice has been created to give audiences a flavour of what to expect when Orpheus opens at Leeds Grand Theatre later in the year. Orpheus is a reimagining of Monteverdi’s opera Orfeo, so we were keen to discover how Monteverdi’s work had inspired Simone too:
“So much of art is about going on a journey to find something new about yourself and I think this very much follows that. The characters in this show have definitely been inspired by Monteverdi’s Orfeo characters and by the characters that Anna Himali Howard (Director), Jasdeep Singh Degun (Musical Director) and Laurence Cummings (Musical Director) are shaping for the production on the mainstage.”
Nick shared how the character of Eurydice has been written back into both shows:
“In the original Monteverdi Orfeo, Eurydice hardly features at all, so one of the lovely aspects about this show is that it has enabled us to develop her character. You learn a lot more about her which also gives the production a slightly different viewpoint.”
A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice begins at the couple’s engagement party where they reminisce about their very first meeting when they negotiated their way around an unfamiliar city together. Their memories spark a celebration of different musical styles including opera, folk, jazz, blues, soul – and Indian classical music which is where Ashnaa’s own musical journey began:
“I grew up listening to, and learning, South Indian classical music: Carnatic music. The pivotal point for me was when I went on this trip to India and watched this amazing festival of loads of artists in one place. After coming back, I just decided to see what else I could do with music, exploring other genres like jazz, funk, R&B. Through that, I decided to work on some of my own compositions and started putting some on social media.”
Sharing her work in this way attracted not only Opera North’s attention but has also led to the release of Ashnaa’s first single which audiences will be able to hear live during the show.
Indian music threads throughout the piece with Mendi Singh, a previous Resonance residency artist, and British Indian composer and keyboardist Kavi Pau, who is trained in both Western and Indian classical music, providing a musical backdrop throughout.
Working with Indian classical musicians in this way and experiencing their ability to improvise at first hand has been a real eye-opener for Nick:
“I’ve come from a background of Western classical music, where everything is written down and you learn everything in advance. Suddenly, that’s all out the window for this project where improvisation takes centre stage.”
For Ashnaa, the challenges have been more about having a set structure to follow:
“With our music, improvisation is one of the biggest parts of it. Everything is based around improvisation. I’ve learnt so much about opera in the last five days. My knowledge of it was very, very minimal – the scope of it all has been pretty mind-blowing.”
In the original Greek myth, Orpheus makes friends and influences people through his amazing talent with music, so it felt right that this stayed at the heart of A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice. However, the action has been brought bang up-to-date for a contemporary audience. As Nick says:
“It’s so different to your preconceived idea because it’s in a modern setting. That’s nice though because, as a singer, you’re allowed to explore parts of the character that are relevant to the modern world, which means you can empathise with the character that little bit more.”
Performing the show in community venues across the north of England and Midlands will bring it within the reach of audiences who may not have encountered Opera North before. Simone adds:
“What I’m hoping is that people will see and recognise something about themselves in the variety of musical styles and in these characters.”
Unexpected, celebratory, thoughtful and moving, the show is a great introduction to both the South Asian and Western classical traditions, and the perfect way to experience opera for the first time in a way which is both accessible and fun. As Nick says:
“I was having a conversation with Mendi today and he was saying ‘you know, I actually think you might have got me into opera’. I think it’s great to come at something from a totally different perspective, providing a different door into a different art form.”
Whether people come for the love story, the music or the humour, A Tale of Orpheus & Eurydice will be like nothing they have seen before. As Nick continues:
“I really hope that people will come and experience something new; I really hope that.”
Part of Opera North’s Orpheus season which also features Orpheus after Monteverdi, Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, and Orpheus in the Record Shop which fuses spoken word and beatboxing with classical music.