HOW best to mark the 400th anniversary of the first opera, Monteverdi’s Orfeo may have been the original premise.
But by commissioning composer Mira Calix and Faulty Optic, the animation and puppet company with a base in Holmfirth and an international reputation, Opera North Projects and the Manchester Festival have perhaps provided the catalyst for rather more.
For in Dead Wedding, Faulty Optic not only remixes the Orpheus legend for the 21st century, it expands its performance boundaries into yet more testing territory.
That may be hard to imagine from a company which already uses puppets, animation, film, soundscapes plus mime and physical theatre skills in extraordinarily detailed and intricate performance pieces.
But Dead Wedding, with its mix of all of those plus recorded, often distorted voices and a score which blends electronic noises with music played live by Opera North musicians on clarinet, cello and viola may well mark something of a milestone for Faulty Optic too.
We first meet Charon, the only winner from a fruit machine fuelled by coins paid to the ferryman by the journeying dead.
Then come the bridal pair, Orpheus and Eurydice, tragically parted when she dies on her wedding day. As she rids herself of troublesome memories, scrubbing them clean before discarding them, Orpheus bargains with Pluto, ruler of the underworld, to get her back.
There’s a triumphant remarriage, flash photography, champagne and all, but then Orpheus in his eagerness to be reunited with his bride, breaks the agreement and nightmares follow.
Eaten by despair, shadowed by dark desires and stung by longing, Orpheus remains in the darkness as Eurydice gets the green light to paradise. But of course, nothing is ever as it seems.
In this darkly surreal landscape, there is immense complexity with animation and puppets mirroring and echoing each other. There are times when the narrative loses its impetus but there are constant compensations: moments of real tenderness, some powerful visual and musical jokes, but above all, a huge surge of creativity from Faulty Optic underpinned by Mira Calix’s atmospheric score and the company’s own macabre humour.