|Aumna Iqbal, Marques Hollie, and Joyce Yin in Caccini's Euridice|
Music can lift our spirits, bring us catharsis for sorrow, and produce feelings of oneness with the universe. But can it bring the dead to life? That is a myth the Ancients would have us believe. The demigod Orpheus played and sang so beautifully that he was able to soften the heart of Pluto, god of the underworld, and thereby guide his beloved Euridice back to Earth.
What a perfect story for a new musical form, devised in 1600. Many opera goers credit Monteverdi as the first composer of opera but the oldest surviving score is that of Giulio Caccini who used a libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini--also used by Jacopo Peri. We understand there was a race to get the opera performed. These scholarly points matter little to us. What matters to us is that the the fearless and endlessly creative Cantanti Project underwent the project of restoring Caccini's work to vibrant life.
At the turn of the 17th c. there were no theatrical conventions for opera as new ground was being broken. Harking back to antiquity, a Greek Chorus was used to narrate and the characters sang lovely melodic phrases to each other simply and directly with minimal artifice.
In this telling of the tale, the chorus of shepherds and nymphs tells us of the joys of the happy couple, Orfeo and Euridice. Euridice (Artistic Director soprano Joyce Yin) celebrates with her friends, dancing and singing her joy. The celebration of Orfeo (mezzo-soprano Aumna Iqbal) and his friends is somewhat randy with teasing and masculine energy.
The sad news that Euridice has died of a snakebite is brought by Dafne (soprano Elyse Anne Kakacek). Arcetro (soprano Laura Mitchell) tells of the arrival of the goddess Venus (mezzo-soprano Brittany Fowler) who will carry Orfeo to the underworld in her chariot. She encourages him to use his musical talent to sway Pluto, god of the underworld.
At first, Pluto (bass-baritone Tom Corbeil) is intransigent. Returning the dead to Earth is not in his playbook. The intervention of his wife Proserpina (soprano Lydia Dahling) has a powerful effect and Orfeo gets to take Euridice home.
The good news is spread by Aminta (tenor Marquis Hollie) who unites the loving couple and everyone celebrates.
Under the divine direction of Bea (Brittany) Goodwin, the entire cast (including tenor Michael Celentano in the dual roles of Tirsi and Caronte (Charon), the tale was told with integrity and sincerity. We expected the fine singing that we heard from the cast but were astonished by their facility with body movement. We concluded that several of the female cast members had experienced ballet training at some point. Ms. Yin was particularly affecting in her joyful turns and arabesques. We loved the physicality of the production as much as the singing.
Musical accompaniment was provided by Dorian Baroque with Dylan Sauerwald conducting from the harpsichord. The instrumentation was given to John Mark Rozendaal who bowed his Viola da Gamba with impressive lyricism, to Paul Holmes Morton who dazzled us with his control of the long necked Theorbo, and the plangently plucked Harp of Christa Patton. There were passages in which only one or two instruments were heard.
The singing was lovely all around and the production generated optimistic feelings. We wondered what the audience might have thought and felt four centuries ago. We imagine that this novel form of entertainment must have made a hit because opera continued to grow and evolve.
We would add that Alexandria Hoffman's simple costume designs were effective, as were the simple props.
This is only Cantanti Project's fourth season but they have already given us a number of memorable evenings, including a radical interpretation of Handel's Orlando. Although they are not a repertory company, their reputation ensures that they can attract a stellar cast, as evidenced by the outstanding performances we heard in this production of Euridice.
(c) meche kroop