We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Monday, May 7, 2018


Anthony Ross Costanzo, Bobbi Jene Smith, and Keir GoGwilt (photo by Erin Baiano)

Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote his glorious version of the Orpheus myth--Orfeo ed Euridice-- in 1762.  Last night at the Rose Theater, we saw the piece, magnificently sung by countertenor Anthony Ross Costanzo in the title role, with soprano Kiera Duffy as Orpheus' beloved Euridice, and soprano Lauren Snouffer as the god Amor. The vocalism could not have been better, nor the acting. The 130 voices of Ted Sperling's Master Voices brought the many choral numbers to vivid life. The Orchestra of St. Luke's was perfectly wonderful in evoking the subtleties of Gluck's music.

There we were, feeling the pain of losing someone dear, half lost in the music, half reveling in the sound of Italian, so well sung that we scarcely needed to look at Cori Ellison's excellent titles. Mr. Costanzo painted the perfect portrait of a man bereft, half crazed by grief. The adorable Ms. Snouffer entered and offered him the hope of rescuing Euridice from Hades. (As a god, Amor knows of Orpheus' great talent as a singer. He will use this talent to save her.) 

We were experiencing his struggle confronting the Furies and doomed souls of Hades, so well staged by Movement Director Julia Eichten who ensured that the singers onstage all looked like dancers. We felt his joy in finding Euridice.  We felt the annoyance that Euridice was mistrustful of Orpheus and were so involved we had to restrain ourself from calling out to her "Shut up and follow him".

And then, as abruptly as any pleasure interruptus, the music turned irritating, the vocal line became unmusical, and the words became incomprehensible. This was composer Matthew Aucoin's interpolation of the Orphic Moment--his imagining of what went on inside the brain of our hero as Euridice gets into her "You don't really love me" mode.  

We never read the program notes until after we have experienced a performance because we want a work to speak for itself.  If it requires explanation and exegesis, the work has failed. What Mr. Aucoin said he was thinking about was that Orpheus is such an aesthete that he needed more tragedy of which to sing more gorgeously. At least, that's how we understand what he wrote.

Well, perhaps if there had been titles for the English text, we might have gotten something out of it beside the irritation of trying so hard to understand the words. We canvassed the audience members nearby and a dozen people in the elevator to see if anyone had heard enough text to tell us but not a single soul had understood. That's just a problem of singing inEnglish.  Titles should always be provided.

But we don't think anything could have gotten us to enjoy the music. Perhaps there were some gods in the audience who would have allowed Orpheus to keep his reputation as the champion singer of all time but we would have revoked the award on the spot.

Sometimes we appreciate a fresh take on an old work but when our ears perform the aural equivalent of eyes glazing over, this is not going to happen.

The Orphic Moment episode, which involved modern dancer Bobbi Jene Smith and solo violinist Keir GoGwilt, seemed interminable but finally things got back to normal for Orfeo's famous aria--"Che faro senza Euridice" with its gorgeous melody. Mr. Costanzo invested it with all the requisite feeling, achieving artistry through the skills of word coloration and dynamic variation. His messa di voce almost made up for the prior alienation we felt.

Ted Sperling's conducting was as excellent as we expected and Zack Winokur's direction was fine, especially in the opening scene which is a wedding celebration turned funeral ode when Euridice gets bitten by a snake.

Stacey Berman's costumes were simple and, for some unknown reason, everyone was barefoot. The next time we attend a wedding in a garden, we will make sure to wear shoes, lest we get bitten by a serpent!

Douglas Fitch's set was simple--the banquet table became a slab for the dead bride, but was later hoisted into the flies, dangling there ominously in view of the audience.

We understand that this creation was a joint work of Mr. Costanzo and Mr. Aucoin and has been seen at National Sawdust and the Salzburg State Theater. We wish them well but in our opinion, Gluck's masterpiece did not ask to be "improved" by anyone else's concept.

We will try to remember the evening with the interpolation excised, focusing on the musical glories of three excellent singers, the splendid Orchestra of St. Luke's,  and the massive forces of Master Voices.

(c) meche kroop

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