Man marries woman, woman dies, man attempts to bring her back from death and fails: Claudio Monteverdi’s 1607 opera L’Orfeo tells the tragic ancient tale of Orpheus (Orfeo) and Eurydice. Lonneke Gordijn of Studio Drift joined forces with Dutch National Touring Opera director Monique Wagemakers and choreographer Nanine Linning to devise a modern presentation of the baroque work, which premiered this month in Enschede.

The oldest operatic piece still performed today, L’Orfeo is a story of the evolution and limitations of human perspective. For this contemporary iteration, Wagemakers conceptualized a Gesamtkunstwerk – an all-embracing form of art. This form, which deconstructs the traditional codes of opera, required the introduction of a new character: Ego, a transforming sculpture by Gordijn, plays the role of a soloist. An interpretation of the hero-protagonist Orfeo’s inner world, Ego was built using more than 16 km of hair-thin nylon thread.

Motors are attached to the eight corners of the block-shaped sculpture-cum-narrative-device, giving the piece the faculty to express stillness, downfall and fluidity, emotional states that Orfeo experiences frequently throughout the opera. The mechanism can make the block look both rigid and loose, fluctuating movements that represent our humanity and its nuances. ‘Absence of fluidity is one of the most striking differences between man-made objects and natural ones,’ says Gordijn.

Ego functions as a tool both to connect the viewer with Orfeo and the viewer with the space he temporarily exists in. ‘Usually audiences walk around works of art,’ explains Gordijn. ‘Now the public sits still. It’s a completely different way of interaction.’

L’Orfeo will tour the Netherlands until 22 February 2020.