Saturday, January 24, 2009

Met Orfeo in HD

Met Opera - Live in HD
Saturday, January 24, 2009 (1:00 pm ET)

Orfeo ed Euridice – Gluck

Production: Mark Morris
Conductor: James Levine
Euridice: Danielle de Niese
Amor: Heidi Grant Murphy
Orfeo: Stephanie Blythe

Even this opera, which I would think is a hard sell, was sold out at the Westfield Mall this morning. There was a long line to get in when I arrived at 9:15am for the 10:00am start. The majority of the audience was elderly, & the atmosphere grew distinctly testy as empty seats became harder to find.

The broadcast started with about 15 minutes of backstage chat. I wonder how the Met publicity people felt about Mark Morris trailing a long pink scarf & describing himself as an opera queen? The opera itself was done without an intermission & lasted barely 90 minutes, even including all that ballet music. The production was decidedly modern in approach, starting with the way Levine & the orchestra dug in for every number.

Stephanie Blythe is a singing machine, her voice sounding sturdy & masculine. She gave the impression of having the reserves to keep going indefinitely. Heidi Grant Murphy gave a cute, warbling performance as a cupid in jeans & pink polo shirt. Danielle de Niese's Euridice looked & sounded sultry.

The stage is dominated by the chorus arrayed on a curved, 3-tiered scaffold in an abstract open space. Each member of the chorus is individually made-up as a different historical personality. I spotted a Lincoln, a Napoleon, a Frederick Douglas, a Marie Antoinette, etc. Mr. Morris explained this by saying the chorus is made up of people who died. Besides singing, the chorus sits or stands or gestures in unison. Below them 20 or so dancers perform the ballet numbers. Each of the dancers is also individually costumed, though in non-specific modern clothes. The dances were fairly abstract, & I did not understand their relationship to the opera's action.

I'd never seen a staging of Orfeo before. It must be challenging to stage it in a large house; its austerity is so at odds with grand opera. Watching the show, I began wondering if the straightforwardness of Gluck's music is actually deceptive. Hades appears to be rather pleasant, & Euridice is so exasperating that I wondered whether Orfeo's life wouldn't be more peaceful without her.

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