Last year’s ground-breaking new staging of Monteverdi’s opera Orpheus, with newly composed music by Jasdeep Singh Degun, has swept the board at recent award ceremonies, garnering a trio of accolades in recognition of its innovative approach to cultural collaboration.
Having scooped the Outstanding Achievement in Opera Award at the 2022 Critics’ Circle Music Awards in September this year, the production has gone on to win the same category at the 2023 UK Theatre Awards and the Best Stage Production at the recent Asian Media Awards.
The opera resulted from a long-standing collaborative relationship between two Leeds-based arts organisations: Opera North and SAA-uk, a centre of excellence for classical Indian music and dance. Monteverdi’s original 1607 opera L’Orfeo was reimagined for today’s audiences, with additional composition by sitar player and Opera North Artist-in-Residence Jasdeep Singh Degun, who was also the co-Music Director for the production with early music expert Laurence Cummings. In recognition of his skill in integrating the two musical traditions, Jasdeep Singh Degun has been nominated for Best Stage Work at The Ivors Classical Awards 2023 to be announced on Tuesday 14 November.
Jasdeep: “I was very happy to begin my tenure as Artist-in-Residence at Opera North with the new and exciting production of Orpheus. In the hope of finding an equal and meaningful meeting point for the operatic and Indian classical traditions, it felt necessary to have sections of new music composed based on Indian classical music. I was fortunate to be given the task of composing this for a stellar cast of Indian classical musicians and vocalists – quite literally, the best of the best Indian classical musicians in the UK! It’s wonderful to have had the result recognised in this way.”
Orpheus wove a distinctive musical and dramatic tapestry from Western and Indian classical music. Sung in Italian and Urdu, with additional sections in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Punjabi and Bengali, it featured an on-stage orchestra of 19 players with a baroque ensemble including harpsichord, lirone and theorbo, as well as Indian classical instruments including sitar, tabla, santoor, esraj and bansuri. Directed by Anna Himali Howard with sets and costumes by Leslie Travers, it relocated the setting of one of the most famous Greek myths to a contemporary wedding party in a British garden.
Richard Mantle, Opera North General Director: “It was such an incredible, powerful, wonderful experience making this show in a way which gave equal weight to both musical traditions. It was genuinely transformative for those involved and gave us all a unique and moving insight into how music is genuinely a language which transcends all barriers.”
Keranjeet Kaur Virdee MBE, Artistic Director and Chief Executive of SAA-uk: “Orpheus is a production that truly reflects 25 years of consistent investment in providing access to learning and Indian classical music, giving rise to UK talent. Accolades such as this are a real affirmation of both the quality and power of our work. It was deeply touching to witness everyone working together to create something unique, innovative and truly representative of UK society today.”
Orpheus opened at Leeds Grand Theatre in October 2022 before touring to Newcastle, Nottingham and Salford. It was subsequently available to watch free on OperaVision for six months up to April 2023.
You can read Leeds Living’s review of Orpheus here.
Main photograph: Shahbaz Hussain on tabla, RN Prakash on ghatam, Mark Wagstaff percussion, Sergio Bucheli on the orbo, Jasdeep Singh Begun on sitar and Andrew Long violin. All photography by Tristram Kenton.