‘Orpheus & Eurydice’ wins hearts

  • By Jackson Holtz
  • Sunday, February 26, 2012 10:18am
  • Life

Seattle Opera’s spare and minimal production of Gluck’s transformative early opera, “Orpheus and Eurydice,” is an homage to the composer’s idea of “noble simplicity.”

The opera, a tightly composed 90 minutes of drama, champions young set designer, Phillip Lienau, and costumer designer, Heidi Zamora. Their concepts, illuminated by lighting designer Connie Yun, provide a profound setting for this mythical story.

It’s as if the organic shapes reflect the inner working of the heart, that most vulnerable of organs broken, twisted and torn in this tale of love lost, regained, lost again, but ultimately triumphant.

“Orpheus and Eurydice” is a terrific choice for first-time opera goers. It’s quick, easy to follow and gorgeous. Seattle Opera has achieved the right balance of telling a mythic tale through the lens of modern stage craft, using restraint to give new life to an ancient story.

Always working within the tight constrains of limited budgets, Seattle Opera has often leaned too heavily on their sophisticated, computerized lighting. In “Orpheus and Eurydice,” it works perfectly, gently shifting moods.

Musically, there are really four main characters in this opera:

American William Burden delivered a gorgeous reading of the high-tenor Orpheus. His voice sounded at times like a trumpet, calling out sweetly for his lost bride. The audience at the opening performance rightly cheered during his curtain call.

Former Seattle Opera Young Artist Julianne Gearhart embodied Amour, giving her spirit and a lightness. Only in Seattle will an opera diva make her entrance on a golden bicycle.

Spanish soprano Davinia Rodriguez demonstrated why Orpheus so longed for Eurydice, singing beautifully.

Finally, the Seattle Opera chorus, under the direction of chorusmaster Beth Kirchhoff, was brilliant.

Gluck’s opera, which premiered in 1774 Paris, calls for significant dancing to help move the plot forward. Choreographer Yannis Adoniou’s work during the opening performance Saturday showcases contemporary dance, not the classical ballet I was expecting. Perhaps a bit overdone a times, the dancers shine most during the frightful scene in Hades. They move within the confines of sleeve-like costumes, haunting Orpheus, whose only defense is his lyre.

“Orpheus and Eurydice” continues for five more performances through March 10. Unlike most Seattle Opera productions, there is only one cast. Catch it before the gods change their mind and don’t allow the characters to return from the underworld to our realm.

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