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Kate Royal as Euridice [Photo by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera]
18 May 2011

Orfeo ed Euridice, Metropolitan Opera

Gluck’s Orfeo is, intentionally, free of clutter. If you cut out the scenes of balletic rejoicing just before the finale (and I can’t think of any good reason not to do so), it’s less than ninety minutes of music.

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

Orfeo: David Daniels; Euridice: Kate Royal; Amore: Lisette Oropesa. Metropolitan Opera chorus and orchestra, conducted by Antony Walker. Performance of April 29.

Above: Kate Royal as Euridice

All photos by Marty Sohl courtesy of Metropolitan Opera


Gluck’s intention was to isolate the story in three individual voices, as no opera treating the story of Orpheus had done before. He could even have made it a monodrama, and in some ways it is one: The roles of Euridice and Amor are neither large nor intricate in the original Vienna version of the score. (Euridice’s aria was a Parisian afterthought, as was Orfeo’s coloratura showpiece in Act I, which may not even be Gluck’s work. Neither is performed at the Met.)

ORFEO_Daniels_as_Orfeo_1307.gifDavid Daniels as Orfeo

The Metropolitan Opera production, directed by Mark Morris, seemed, when it was first mounted, to be mostly about Isaac Mizrahi’s distracting costumes for the chorus (some idiot tale about “all the famous people in history witnessing the story”) and, secondarily, Morris’s jazzy choreography, almost the only scene-setting we have for Tartaros or Elysium. There was some story about a guy who goes to the Underworld to bring back his dead wife, but that came a poor third. On its latest revival, those miserable costumes are still around, but the chorus do not rush about on their catwalk portraying furious Furies; they stay sedately in place, out of the spotlight. The lighting is seldom upon them anyway, and one can ignore their egregious intrusions and just listen to the way they sing. (Beautifully, with very precise diction.) Morris’s choreography also seems less to clutter matters and (I could be wrong here) there may have been cuts in the celebratory dances. So at last the opera is about Orpheus and Eurydice, a pleasant, nearly Ovidian, metamorphosis.

ORFEO_Oropesa_as_Amor_0293.gifLisette Oropesa as Amor

Antony Walker, an Australian, made an excellent, brisk debut in the pit, and even at its most languid moments, the musical tension never let up all night: an energetic performance informed, one suspects, by a background in the current, danceable Early Music style of doing galant music. He plays well with singers, too—this staging requires the chorus to keep time, beating their hands on the rails of their bleachers, at certain moments.

David Daniels is now 45, and countertenors’ voices do not last as long as, say, Wagnerian sopranos’ do. I hear less of the thrilling sensuality in his alto that had me gaga in earlier years, less control at the edges of individual notes, but he has always been a superb musician and a passionate actor, and his Orfeo is a memorable, ardent portrait. When he stands alone, bereft, at the center of the stage (vertically as well as horizontally) for the climactic “Che faro senza Euridice,” a clear and simple statement of anguish, he has earned our total attention and repays it richly. This is what Gluck’s clarifying reform of opera was all about.

ORFEO_Daniels_and_Royal_188.gifDavid Daniels as Orfeo and Kate Royal as Euridice

Lisette Oropesa made a pleasing god of love, the voice pure and clear, filling the hall, the gestures a minimum of cute excess. Kate Royal made her Met debut as Euridice, with a voice of distinct color and beauty and an attractive stage presence, but she did not make terribly much of this pallid character’s awkward situation, as Danielle de Niese, in striking contrast, did, and for some reason she had lost her vocal footing for the final triumphal duet and was unable to regain it.

John Yohalem

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