Karen wasn’t up to attending Friday night’s Lyric Opera performance, so Jan joined me. While I was sorry Karen wasn’t able to make it, I was glad Jan was treated to such an outstanding production. (Giving your extra opera tickets can be a hit-or-miss proposition, since you’re never sure exactly what you’ll get.)
Lyric’s staging of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice is really something to see. Stark staging and lighting, combined with beautiful music and excellent singing hit all the right notes in this 90-minute opera. Set primarily on a gravel pit, dramatic shadows cut across the rocky slope and silhouettes and shadows travel across the backdrop of a single cyclorama.
The story is simple: A chorus of mourners bury Euridice, but her husband Orfeo is too grief stricken to let her go. Amor, the god of love, intervenes and grants Orfeo the chance to fetch Euridice from the Underworld, restoring her to life so long as he doesn’t look at her (or explain why) until they have safely returned to their world.
In the second act, the chorus has become the dead, laid out in burial shrouds surrounded by flame pots. Orfeo, sung by popular countertenor David Daniels, appeases them with his song of love and he’s allowed to pass through to Elysium. The gravel pit has become a grassy slope and as the dead arise, Orfeo is reunited with Euridice and he leads her out of the Underworld.
In act three, the only one in which Euridice (beautifully) sings, the lovers’ reunion is predictably short (hello–it’s opera!) No sooner are they two steps out of the grave when Euridice surmises that love is lost as Orfeo refuses to look at her. (Apparently risking death to make an Underworld rescue doesn’t count for much, but hey, that’s opera–a world where emotions turn on a dime.) Lamenting that death is better than life without Orfeo’s love, she shrouds herself and descends into her grave, when Orfeo blows it and, you guessed it, Euridice dies again. Amor intervenes once again to provide an unusually happy ending to the drama.
At 90-minutes (without an intermission) this production moves along quickly and scores not only as a great work of opera but as an impressive piece of theater. The acting was as strong as the singing and the orchestra sounded great. The Lyric Opera chorus proved their worth once again, adding strong support, both musically and visually, to the piece. Though a countertenor, whose vocal range is much higher than most are used to, is the featured performer (and he’s on stage 100% of the time,) I’d still not hesitate to use this production as an excellent introduction to opera for any first-timer.