Boston Early Music Festival’s Orphée a play within a play

La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers Photo credit: Andre Constantini
Photo credit: Andre Constantini Courtesy: Boston Early Music Festival

There are good performances, great performances and every now and then, exceptional performances – the kind that open up your mind in ways you didn’t know were possible; your perspective shifts, if only for a moment, and you’re filled with intense joy and wonder at the beauty that is unfolding in front of you. I was lucky enough to experience the latter in Pacific Opera Victoria and the Early Music Society of the Islands’ co-production of the Boston Early Music Festival’s Orphée last weekend.

This performance was a first-ever co-production for Pacific Opera Victoria and the Early Music Society of the Islands, and the first time that the Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) had come to Victoria and a rare staging of two early French operas by Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier La Couronne de Fleurs and his unfinished La Descente d’Orphée aux Enfers.

La Couronne de Fleurs Photo credit: Andre Constantini

Orphée was billed as a play within a play, with both works presented together in alternating scenes. In a culture where some companies are “dressing up” classical music to appeal to new audiences, I was concerned that this was a gimmick and that the integration of the two works would be clumsy and awkward. However, this production was done with such artistic integrity and absolute dedication to historical performance practice that blending the two works in this was totally charming and seamless – it felt as though the works were meant to be presented that way. In an evening that literally took the audience to hell and back, the lighter storyline of Couronne was a delightful (and welcome!) reprieve from the heavier storyline of Orphée where the main character goes to hell to bring back Euridice, who dies on their wedding day. I think I actually enjoyed both pieces more because of how they were presented.

With early music superstars Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs among the musicians making up the membership of the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Ensemble, I knew I could expect great things. The ensemble is dedicated to promoting historical performance and they brought Charpentier’s scores to life with such vitality that the music seemed timeless. The artistry and musicianship of the instrumental ensemble was well-matched by the singers, who were for the most part outstanding soloists, but truly excelled in their ensemble singing, which was other-worldly in its beauty.

There were a few moments that stood out in the production, most notably the scene in which Euridice dies in Orphée’s arms. While this scene is emotionally dramatic, it was staged and sung with such an intense simplicity that the intimacy between the characters could be felt by the audience.

La Descente d'Orphée aux Enfers  Photo credit: Andre Constantini

This was music making on another level. It was one of those evenings that renewed my faith in the power of music - my only regret with this production was that it isn’t running longer. I’m willing to bet that anything the BEMF produces is of this calibre, and if you have the chance, I’d strongly suggest going to anything they produce. I’m also excited to see what future collaborations hold for Pacific Opera Victoria and the Early Music Society of the Islands – if their first foray into co-productions is this strong, I can hardly wait to see what’s next!

Where to Stay

By locating myself at the Parkside Hotel just steps away from Government Street in Victoria, I could easily walk to the McPherson Playhouse (and I was in close proximity to a multitude of restaurants and shops!). The Parkside is a contemporary and relatively new boutique hotel located on Humboldt Street, a quieter street in the heart of Victoria.  With LEED-platinum aspirations, this hotel boasts rooms larger than any condo you’ll find downtown (and all of their rooms are suites). The Parkside also partners with local artists to showcase their art throughout their impressive lobby and atrium (foodies should also take note that their in-house café boasts locally roasted coffees and all organic, local fare). They’re putting the finishing touches on a rooftop patio with a barbeque available for all guests, and an outdoor fireplace. Summer there is guaranteed to be spectacular! For more information, or to sign up for their newsletter, visit



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