The Metropolitan Opera – Orfeo ed Euridice

Orfeo ed Euridice – Azione teatrale in three acts [Libretto by Ranieri de’Calzabigi; sung in Italian with English Met Titles by Francis Rizzo. Performed in the Vienna version, 1762, edited by Ann Amelie Albert and Ludwig Fischer]

Orfeo – David Daniels
Amor – Heidi Grant Murphy
Euridice – Maija Kovalevska

The Metropolitan Opera Chorus

Dancers of the Mark Morris Dance Group and the Metropolitan Opera Ballet

The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
James Levine

Mark Morris – New production
Allen Moyer – Set design
Issac Mizrahi – Costume design
James F. Ingalls – Lighting design
Mark Morris – Choreography

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 9 May, 2007
Venue: The Metropolitan Opera, New York City

When Gluck wrote “Orfeo ed Euridice” in 1762, he conceived the role of Orfeo for an alto castrato. In our time it is commonly sung by mezzo-sopranos, and Lorraine Hunt Lieberson had been scheduled for this production. Tragically she died of cancer last July, and these performances are dedicated to her memory. In 1774 the composer revised the opera for Paris productions, translating it into French, adding arias and ballets, and giving the title role to a high tenor. While modern productions often feature some combination of both versions, the MET decided to return to the original 1762 version and cast a male Orfeo, counter-tenor David Daniels, in Lieberson’s stead. Both are firsts in the house’s performance history. A further touch of authenticity was added by using a fairly small orchestra, the strings playing with minimal vibrato.

Rather than seeking out an early music specialist, James Levine had made it a point to conduct this opera himself. One would imagine this to be a sign of his special interest in the work, but he seemed oddly uninvolved in the performance. His head buried in the score, he barely had any eye contact with the singers, which at times led to some minor ensemble problems in the recitatives. While there were many gripping moments, they didn’t seem to be generated by the conductor as much as by the sheer beauty of the choral singing, and the dramatic engagement of the three major characters.

The production itself is an innovative modern interpretation of the Ancient Greek myth. Staged and choreographed by Mark Morris, it incorporates dancers as a unifying element throughout the opera. They are dressed in modern attire, which changes from black to white to multi-colored as the three acts unfold without intermission. The action takes place primarily in front of a set of curved three-tiered amphitheater-like bleachers that hold a chorus of 100. Each of the singers is costumed as a historical figure; they take part in the action as commentators and spectators, sitting, standing, and using hand gestures. The two parts of the structure are moved about into different configurations as needed to represent the changing settings, and lighting effects change its appearance from stone-like monolith to transparent filigree. Only at the beginning of the third act is this amphitheater replaced by a dark labyrinth, which ingeniously appears when a ring around the stage rotates the back wall to the front of the stage.

Orfeo is represented as a pop-singer – black suit, guitar slung over his shoulder. From his initial anguished cries of “Euridice!” to the triumphant conclusion, David Daniels gave a powerfully emotional and polished performance of both the musical and dramatic aspect of the title role. In spite of Levine’s fast tempo, the well-known ‘Che farò senza Euridice’ was beautifully sung and conveyed all the anguish of the lament.

Heidi Grant Murphy elicited laughter when she first descended from the ceiling of the stage, suspended by wires like Peter Pan. Dressed in chinos and a pink T-shirt, sporting white wings, this Amor is a comical and tomboyish figure; her whole aria ‘Gli sguardi tratteni’ was delivered with her hands in her pockets. Murphy has an appealing light soprano voice, but in trying to convey this puckish side of the God of Love, she sometimes resorted to somewhat unstylistic portamentos.

The young Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska won the “Operalia Competition”, organized by Plácido Domingo, in October 2006. Earlier this season she made her MET debut as Mimì, and judging from her performance here, she is ready for an international career. A striking beauty, she has a rich and expressive voice which she used to great effect in portraying Euridice’s sufferings.

“Orfeo ed Euridice” has been playing to sold-out houses, one of the ‘hot’ tickets of the MET season.

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