Orfeo ed Euridice

This review is of a presentation of Orfeo ed Euridice that was performed live at the NY Metropolitan Opera on Janaury 24, 2009 and broadcast live in HD in a number of local theaters throughout the country.

Composer: Christoph Willibald Gluck

Librettist: Ranieri de Calzabigi

Met Opera Orchestra Directed by: James Levine

Sung in Italian with English sub-titles.

The Story

This Opera is Gluck's retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and it is necessary to be familiar with that story to fully appreciate the Opera.

In Greek mythology, Orpheus was the son of the king of Thrace and Calliope, the Muse of lyric poetry. He was given a golden lyre by Apollo and taught by the Muses to play it. With his lyre, he was renowned as the greatest musician in the world and could charm man, beast or even the land to his will. Orpheus married Eurydice, who was descended from tree nymphs.

Shortly after their wedding, Eurydice is bitten by a viper while fleeing a satyr. The bite proves fatal. Overcome by grief, Orpheus declares he will descend into the underworld and bring his beloved bride back or not return himself. Playing his golden lyre and singing, he charms the gods and furies of the underworld and they bring Eurydice to him, but in order to return her to the world of the living Orpheus must promise he will not talk to or look at Eurydice until they have left the underworld. As they near the end of their journey Orpheus is overcome by doubt and longing and turns to Eurydice who is immediately taken by the spirits of the underworld, and with only a quiet "Goodbye" she is returned to the land of the dead. Orpheus spends the rest of his life wandering the world in loneliness until his death when he is reunited with his wife in the underworld.

In Orfeo ed Euridice, Gluck takes this classic Greek myth and transforms it into a story of the power of love to conquer all, even death.

Act I

The set is modern, consisting of a plain stage with three tiers of balconies above. On the balconies are the ninety members of the chorus, each dressed individually as a different historical figure. The stage is set with plain walls and benches below the chorus. The urn containing Euridice's ashes sits alone at the front and center. Orfeo (mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe), dressed in a brown suit and vest, is surrounded by shepherds and nymphs in modern casual dress, all gray, mourning with him. As Orfeo and the chorus sing of his overwhelming grief, the mourners dance a funereal piece and try to console him, then leave him alone. With only Echo to hear him, he vows to rescue Euridice from the underworld.

Amor (Heidi Grant Murphy), the god of love, descends from Olympus with a message from the gods. The beauty and pain in Orfeo's mourning have moved Jove to pity. He will allow Orfeo to descend into the land of the dead to rescue Euridice, but Orfeo must neither look at her nor tell her why he cannot. Otherwise she will be lost forever to the underworld. Orfeo readily agrees.

Act II

The set change is accomplished without a curtain during an orchestral interlude. The two halves of the chorus balconies are separated and moved apart to create the gates of Hades. Ghosts and Furies try to deny Orfeo entry, but he wins them over with his lament and he is allowed to enter the Elysian Fields. As Orfeo ascends a metal stairway into the depths of the underworld, Euridice (Danielle de Niese) is brought to him by the heros and heroines inhabiting this level of Hades. Without looking at her, he leads her away.


Again with no curtain, the chorus walls are moved away to reveal a cavernous labyrinth leading up the set wall. Suffering from being unable to comfort his wife's fears, Orfeo leads the frightened Euridice back toward life. But she cannot understand why he will not look at her and fears he does not love her. Afraid to face a life without his love, she panics and refuses to go on. In desperation, Orfeo turns to her and she dies again. Stricken with grief and remorse at his weakness, he declares he will take his own life.

Amor appears again and stays Orfeo's hand. Moved by his love and devotion, Amor again revives Euridice and the three return to the land of the living.

The chorus balconies are returned and the set becomes the Temple of Love. With Orfeo, Euridice, Amor and the chorus singing in celebration of love, the nymphs and shepherds return and dance with joy.


In several ways, Orfeo ed Euridice is a small Opera. First, it is short, running just 95 minutes. There are no breaks, as all the scene changes take place within the action. Second, with only three solo voices, the vocal scope of the story is restrained. There are no soaring arias sung by any of the cast. The appeal of this Opera is in the use of the large chorus throughout and the element of dance to enhance the drama of the story.

Stephanie Blythe is very powerful in the pants role of Orfeo. Her voice carries Orfeo's deep despair and soaring love very well. She is well paired with Danielle de Neise as Euridice. The two voices blend beautifully in the duets. In the role of Amor, Heidi Grant Moore sings beautifully, but her performance is marred by an apparent lack of ease with the wire flying required by the part.

The production was designed by Mark Morris for its premier in 2007 and was mounted again by Morris for this Met run. Mr. Morris's unusual set design and costuming provide a perfect setting for the story. Each individual chorus member is dressed as a different historical figure. These figures vary from Genghis Kahn to Marie Antoinette to Mark Twain to Albert Einstein to Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon. Having the chorus fully present above the action contributes to the universality of the theme of love mastering all. The choreography also is well designed to further the timeless nature of the Orfeo myth.

The live simulcast of the performance was perhaps overproduced. The audio was of the highest quality, and the ability to bring the leads into close-up was a nice benefit of the camera work. It was overused, however. In a performance designed for presentation to a live audience, the focus is directed by the way the actors move and vocalize. When the camera overrules where the natural flow of the action takes the eye, the effect is jarring. Too often we were not allowed to see the set as a whole but were treated to close-up shots of the dancers' feet. In this sense the camera work becomes a distraction. The stage production would have been better served if the camera had allowed the viewer to focus concentration more naturally.

This was a masterful production of a pleasant Opera. I wish I could have seen it live in New York. Despite the overproduction of the live HD feed, I am still very glad to have the opportunity to see the quality of a Met production from over a thousand miles away. I'll settle for this until I can get to the real thing.


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