Opera Scotland

Descent o' Orpheus tae the Underwarl 2016Ayrshire Opera Experience

Read more about the opera Descent of Orpheus to the Underworld

In Scotland, we are slowly having the opportunity to explore the works of Marc-Antoine Charpentier. Two of them, Actéon, a short bucolic tragedy, and David et Jonathas, a biblical epic, have been presented at the Edinburgh Festival by Les Arts Florissants under William Christie, where they each made a very strong impression.

We have recently been able to see Actéon once more, this time presented in an effective Scots translation, by a new Scottish company, Ayrshire Opera Experience, led by the tenor David Douglas. The success of that project encouraged them to follow it with a second brief piece from the same source La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers, opening in Ayrshire in 2015 and giving a couple of performances on the Festival Fringe. As with Actéon, it was performed in a Scots version, under the title The Descent o' Orpheus Tae The Underwarl.

This was a highly worthwhile enterprise, presented in a simple staging (circus based) with keyboard accompaniment. The plays of Molière always seem to translate well into Scots, and French opera of the period also sounds fresh - 'mischancy quean' seems less po-faced than 'unfortunate nymph'.

The central part of Orpheus has several brief arias, all in melancholy vein (his first appearance is to see his wife dying of snakebite), and they exploit the high lyrical register typical of the tenor roles of the French baroque. David Douglas specialises in these and his plangent tone suited the characterisation well.

Colleen Nicoll, doubling Euridice and Proserpine, had a beautiful sweet-toned soprano. To begin with, at the first performance, her diction lacked clarity, but she quickly settled down, and the attractive Scots version came over effectively. The other performers, gods, nymphs, and contrite criminals, all sang with a good sense of baroque style, contributing the choral sequences as required.

This short piece made a highly attractive early evening entertainment for an enthusiastic Fringe audience.

Performance Cast


Colleen Nicoll

Aréthuse a nymph

Emily Mitchell

Enone a nymph

Alexandra Shrinivas

Orphée son of Apollo

David Douglas

Apollon god of poetry and music

Allan Smith

Ixion a condemned criminal

Rachel Hyslop

Tantale a condemned criminal

Christian Schneeberger

Titye a condemned criminal

Chris Morris

Pluton king of the Underworld

Craig Judge

Proserpine queen of the Underworld

Colleen Nicoll

Performance DatesDescent o' Orpheus tae the Underwarl 2016

Map List

Lauriston Halls | Edinburgh

11 Aug, 18.30 12 Aug, 18.30

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