Author Topic: Gluck's "Orfeo" at the Met  (Read 2478 times)

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Larry Rinkel

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Gluck's "Orfeo" at the Met
« on: May 03, 2007, 06:53:26 PM »
In a word: "Wow!" Christoph Willibald von Gluck's austere, once-popular opera, has been revived at the Met after some twenty years in a production conceived by Mark Morris and featuring both members of his own company and from the Met ballet. Gluck's version of the Orpheus legend is a decorous one in which, following the hero's failure to keep his vow not to look back at Eurydice before emerging from Hades, he is nonetheless rewarded for giving it a good try and his lady love is restored. No Thracian Maenads tearing the disconsolate Orpheus limb from limb here.

As with other of his takes on various classics (Sylvia, Nutcracker, Four Saints in Three Acts), Morris doesn't play the story entirely "straight" but infuses his own ironic twists on the settings and action. Since Orfeo is not a comedy, he generally doesn't go for laughs, but there are mildly comic moments even in the most tragic scenes, as when Heidi Grant Murphy as the god Amor, makes her first entrance suspended on a harness from the flies and slowly plummets down to earth. Orpheus, well portrayed by the great countertenor David Daniels (the production was first conceived for the late soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson) is dressed in black, slinging a guitar like a modern-day Elvis. But the most surprising twist is how Morris finds for once a real use for the vast expanse of the enormous Met stage. This is very much a choral opera, and Morris together with stage designer Allen Moyer situates the 90-member choral ensemble on a huge, semi-elliptical apparatus in which they sit on three levels like bleachers, virtually filling the rear of the stage floor to ceiling, while the dancers occupy the floor level. Evidently representing the spirits of the dead, each is costumed by Isaac Mizrahi individually as an historic or mythic personage: I saw among others Gandhi, Nefertiti, Napoleon, Elizabeth I, Lincoln, an Old Testament prophet, an Indian chief, and too many more to identify. It was like a takeoff on the old Sergeant Pepper album cover come to life, and whether one "approves" or not (I certainly did), one has to marvel at the sheer audacity of the concept. Soon one learns this huge edifice is really two structures each holding half the chorus, and each part is eventually shifted around the stage in various configurations by some dozen stagehands (who get their own well-deserved bow at the end of the opera). After Orfeo descends to Hades and gains admission to the Elysian Fields, a huge staircase-like apparatus descends from the flies through a trap door to represent the change of setting. Finally the rear wall of the set revolves to the front to represent the way up to earth from Hades. The stage machinery is utterly incredible.

But the staging would not be enough to carry the evening were the musical performances not so committed and compelling. Completing the small trio of principals is Maija Kovalevska, a brilliant soprano, and the musical direction is under the ubiquitous James Levine, a conductor whom I have often found stolid and under-nuanced, but who here contributes a surprisingly lively, incisive account of the score. And then there are the dancers, doing typically inventive Morris-y things that I'm sure any dance aficionados can describe better than I. The dancers are also strikingly costumed - first in relatively neutral casual wear, then all in white when they play the Blessed Spirits, and finally back on earth in any number of solid colors (blue, green, red, lavender, etc.) - but what a change from the cartoonish solid colors used for NYCB's new Romeo and Juliet.

The only drawback is that the Met uses the original, 1762 version of the score without alteration, thus making an evening of about 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission. This means some fine music Gluck later added for the 1774 Paris version (where Orfeo becomes a high tenor) is not heard, above all the familiar dance with flute solo that Balanchine used in Chaconne. But given the loss of familiar music, I can't see the grounds for textual purity, especially as many productions incorporate the best of both versions (just as they do with Don Giovanni, Boris Godunov, and other operas that exist in multiple editions).

But New Yorkers, don't let that deter you. The other three performances are probably sold out, but do what you can to keep an eye for returns or buy at the door. This is one not to miss.
« Last Edit: May 04, 2007, 05:06:23 AM by Larry Rinkel »

Offline knight66

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Re: Gluck's "Orfeo" at the Met
« Reply #1 on: May 04, 2007, 12:40:20 AM »
I have rarely been so utterly bored as I was watching this opera in a Mark Morris production in Edinburgh. Evidently he has rethought it a great deal. There was basically no action apart from the dancers who mostly daisy chained in high stepping skips round and round. Orfeo was kept towards the back of the stage for most of the evening and could hardly be heard across the lackluster HIP orchestra. Hogwood managed to flatten out all sense of sprung rhythm.

I was not alone in being bored and have avoided Morris and what I felt was by then his typical stick ever since. He was conspicuously dancing, or lumping about, dressed as a woman and weighing what any other two dancers together would. A totally dismal evening. But I am glad your experience was so different. Perhaps Morris listened to some frank feedback.

Mike

« Last Edit: May 04, 2007, 10:35:22 PM by knight »
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Larry Rinkel

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Re: Gluck's "Orfeo" at the Met
« Reply #2 on: May 04, 2007, 01:30:31 AM »
I have rarely been so utterly bored as I was watching this opera in a Mark Morris production in Edinburgh. Evidently he has rethought it a great deal. There was basically no action apart from the dancers who mostly daisy chained in high stepping skips round and round. Orfeo was kept towards the back of the stage for most of the evening and could hardly be heard across the lackluster HIP orchestra. Hogwood managed to flatten out all sense of sprung rhythm.

I was not alone in being bored and have avoided Morris and what I felt was by then his typical stick ever since. He was conspicuously dancing, or lumping, about dressed as a woman and weighing what any other two dancers together would. A totally dismal evening. But I am glad your experience was so different. Perhaps Morris listened to some frank feedback.

Mike



You don't need to take only my word for it:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/04/arts/music/04orfe.html?ref=music
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/05/04/arts/dance/04morr.html