Sunday, February 22, 2009

Orfeo ed Euridice

It's like I have season tickets! And my box is behind a guy who won't shut up about knowing the bass player in the orchestra. So I've never seen an opera like this. It was like an operallet. There was a lot of dancing, and a huge amount of choral music, and a cast of about 100, I'd say. I think there was a clavier in the pit.

But let me start from the beginning. So this is an early opera by Gluck, in Italiano. The lead role, Orfeo, was written for a castrato, but is now sung by a mezzo-soprano in a "trousers role." The whole thing is one act--no intermission. So it begins at the funeral of Euridice, with poor old Orfeo singing the blues. The nymphs and shepherds dance their farewell, but Orfeo tells them to get lost. Everyone is wearing blue-gray, except Orfeo, wearing black, and the chorus (up above in a sort of fire-escape type thing... well, look at the pictures from the Met). Did I mention that everyone is wearing Isaac Mizrahi? Also, did I mention that Jimi Hendrix is in the chorus?

So, Amor comes down from the skies in a pink polo shirt and chinos, and tells Orfeo what he can do to get Euridice back. Very puckish. So Orfeo grabs his guitar and goes. The ghosts (wearing gray, and then stunning white) come and dance, and Orfeo has to beg to get through. He calls on their mercy, since they were lovers once, and at this point, the dancers begin to pair off. Male/female, male/male, female/female. Very avant garde decision--I liked it. Meanwhile, the chorus (which is everyone who has ever died, in the underworld, including Eleanor Roosevelt and Mark Twain and Truman Capote and Crazy Horse and Frederick Douglass) sings. Finally, they relent and Orfeo grabs Euridice and goes--duh, of course, without looking at her.

So they travel through the underworld, which is a glistening, sparkling black oily mountain. I think the set designer might have balled up gobs of electrical tape and then doused it in roof pitch. But Euridice spoils it all, by singing about how cruel he is, not to even look at her, and oh, the passion must have died, oh my, oh dear. Finally, after a lot handwringing, Orfeo looks at her, and of course, she dies and is carried back to the underworld. Well, I knew this was a tragedy, right?

Wrong!!! Just as Orfeo is about to shuffle off this mortal coil, Amor appears again. S/he says: "No, don't kill yourself! You've proved your love!" And Orfeo is reunited with Euridice, and they return to earth, where the nymphs and shepherds are dancing in bright, bright colors--m/f, m/m, and f/f as before--and Orfeo and Euridice kiss, and then there's more dancing and singing! Hoorah!

I liked this opera, even though the music was a little early-classical for my tastes (I'm more of a Romantic period type) and some of the songs or dances seem over-long, when there's no intermission. But I think the director and designers did a great job of making this opera into a visually compelling and relevant (even modern) production, and the woman who sang Orfeo (Stephanie Blythe) was, of course, quite good. I am a little puzzled as to why Gluck changed the story--but I was, after all, touched by the end.

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