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Amanda Forsythe [Photo by Arielle Doneson]
30 May 2016

Orphée et Euridice, Seattle

It’s not easy for critics to hit the right note when they write about musical collaborations between students and professionals. We have to allow for inevitable lack of polish and inexperience while maintaining an overall high standard of judgment.

Orphée et Euridice, Seattle

A review by Roger Downey

Above: Amanda Forsythe [Photo by Arielle Doneson]


That difficulty was swept away in moments when the curtain rose on Gilbert Blin’s staging of C.W. von Gluck’s 1774 French-language adaptation of his boundary-breaking 1762 Orfeo ed Euridice. With polished professionals in the title roles, the marvelous “early music” specialist Stephen Stubbs, an orchestra of equally seasoned players in the pit, and a sensitive and visual concept by veteran music-theater artists, the youth, energy and lack of professional polish exhibited by the all-student chorus and dancers positively added to the power of the production.

For me the very word “projections” causes an anticipatory chill. How often has a staging been ruined by intrusive, inappropriate, ill-executed background imagery? These projections, seamlessly contrived by frequent Blin collaborators Travis Mouffe and Remy-Michel Trotier with lighting designer Peter Bracilano, were intrusive, but in just the right way: they glorified the stage action, sweetened and acidulated the mood, turned the often distracting but necessary business of titling into a marvelously inventive commentary on the very art of the librettist. Rarely has a “bare stage” seemed so richly evocative.

Valerie_Vinzant.pngValerie Vinzant

Meany Hall’s acoustic is ungrateful to the human voice. One hears clearly enough, but the sound is diminished as if by an invisible scrim. With barely 1000 seats, the singers seem a little lost in space. Amanda Forsythe was extravagantly cast as Euridice — a treat to hear. Former LA Opera Young Artist Valerie Vinzant was delicious as Amour, and provided by far the most idiomatic and expressive French diction of the evening.

As Orphée, the role upon which the entire work depends for its effect, Aaron Sheehan moved well, in the statuesque mode demanded by Blin’s staging, and sang with considerable beauty, particularly in his pure haut-contre register. I was surprised that a singer who has spent much of his career in the classical French repertory (he has recorded works of Charpentier and Lully) makes so little of the expressive power of the language’s mixed vowel and nasals: his “mute” e’s in particular often end phrases with a dull bump.

aaron-sheehan-l.pngAaron Sheehan

As to idiomatic French, the 20 student choristers might as well have been singing in Urdu, but they sang with precision, passion, and character. The movement scheme devised by Blin and his choreographer Anna Mansbridge allowed them to take an active role in the purely instrumental music, some of best dance tunes ever devised for opera, equal to Rameau’s at his most expressive.

The six dancers, all “pre-professional,” took all the roles specified by Moline’s ingenious libretto: mourners, blessed spirits, demons, celebrants, and (a lovely touch) the animals which legend says were as charmed by Orpheus’s lyre as were the fiends of hell.

One particular young man, self-effacing in his “straight” dancing, provided his turn as larve-in-chief with a sense of real menace and fury. Morgan Houghton is already an authentic stage animal. With luck he will soon be able to drop the “pre-” from his resumé and claim his full desert.

Roger Downey

Cast and production details:

Orphée: Aaron Sheehan; Euridice: Amanda Forsythe; Amour: Vealerie Vinzant. Director and supervising designer: Gilbert Blin; choreographer: Anna Mansbridge; Projections: Travis Mouffe; Texts and supertitles: Remy-Michel Trotie; Costume designer: Anna Watkins; Lighting designer and production manager: Peter Bracilano; Orchestra of Pacific Music Works, Tekla Cunningham, concertmaster; Music director and conductor: Stephen Stubbs; Dancers and music students of the University of Washington; Meany Hall for the Performing Arts, Seattle, May 22, 2016.

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