|Maestro Richard Owen, cast of Orfeo ed Euridice, and Camerata New York Orchestra|
The legend of Orpheus and his descent into the Underworld to retrieve his wife Eurydice is a mutable one. Even Virgil and Ovid told the tale differently. Perhaps every age puts a different spin on the story to teach a lesson. Even before Gluck wrote his masterpiece in 1762, Jacopo Peri and Giulio Caccini had composed their own version in 1600, and Monteverdi had composed his in 1607. The theme has inspired innumerable books, plays, ballets, and songs as well as operas.
Just as Gluck stripped the music of baroque orientation, so librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi stripped the story of extraneous plot elements. He does not even show us how Eurydice died. But, thankfully, he provided a happy ending. Perhaps the message of his age was that the god of love conquers every ill.
Last night at the gorgeous St. Jean Baptiste Church, we were presented with a unique and fortunate artistic collaboration between Mannes Opera (under the leadership of Emma Griffin), Mannes Sounds Festival (of which Pavlina Dokovska is Artistic Director), Graham 2 Dancers (choreographed by Virginie Mécène), and Camerata New York Orchestra (under the baton of Maestro Richard Owen).
Just to set the record straight, Maestro Owen conducted from the harpsichord senza baton, but with incredibly expressive hands; he is not only Artistic Director of Camerata New York but is also Music Director and organist of the church and conducts the Adelphi Orchestra.
A European symphony conductor of our acquaintance to whom we posed the question "Where is the best place to sit?" replied "As close to the conductor as possible". Last night we sat about five feet from Maestro Owen and indeed we heard some very specific touches that we might have missed had we sat farther back.
We generally notice the wind instruments but last night we were able to focus on the violins right in front of us and to observe certain details of technique that held our interest. We particularly enjoyed the parts in which the harp joined in with the pizzicato violins. Not to shortchange the winds, we were captivated by the melodies produced by the flutes.
However, there was a price to pay for this experience. Although the acoustics at St. Jean Baptiste are highly resonant, the voices did not always carry over the sound of the floor level orchestra. Had there been an intermission, we would have moved to the rear to see how the sound was back there.
The higher register was no problem and Michaela Estrin sang beautifully as Euridice, investing her soprano instrument with wonder, anxiety, and joy, as the story demanded.
Coloratura soprano Yoonjeong Yoo made a pert Amore, carrying off her role with spirit and benevolence. Her voice also carried well, with a silvery sheen.
Mezzo-soprano Perri di Cristina fared less well, although she sounded superb in the upper register. We just lost a lot of her sound in the middle voice and lower register. Nonetheless, her Italianate vowels and legato technique were put into service as she created an Orfeo with depth of feeling. Her emotions ran the gamut from grief to hope, from despair to joy, as Amore restores his beloved to him.
The highlight was, of course, the "Che faro senza Euridice", for which Ms. di Christina produced some finely crafted embellishments of the vocal line in the ritornello. We also loved the final duet between the two reunited lovers.
The chorus was splendid, filling the sanctuary with resonance and we would like to give props to Chorus Master Bryant Denmark.
Stage Director William Gustafson made excellent use of the enormous space. Most of the drama took place on the altar, just a few steps above floor level. Early on, the deceased Euridice appeared in a white gown way up near the dome. We wished there had been a spotlight on her because she was easy to miss.
Amore first appeared in the pulpit but later joined the despairing Orfeo and the dead Euridice on the platform.
The chorus appeared first as mourners dressed in black under large black umbrellas as Orfeo wept over Euridice's bier. Later they sang from the rear balcony and finally appeared clad in white.
Orfeo made his entrance coming down the aisle. It was altogether a fine use of existing elements. Initially we wondered why the opera was not presented downstairs in the theater, which has a pit. As the evening progressed we recognized how appropriate the sanctuary was.
Costumes by Taelen Richardson were right on point although vaguely contemporary. Orfeo was dressed in a mourner's black suit and Euridice in a white gown. Amore's fuschia gown brought a welcome pop of color.
We must confess that we generally dislike modern dance but loved Virginie Mécène's choreography for the Graham 2 dancers. They appeared first as the Furies who bar Orfeo from the underworld, wearing dark menacing costumes and making dark menacing movements. Later the dancers appeared in pastel flowing Greek-inspired costumes, gracefully accompanying Euridice on her journey.
Do take a look at photos on our Facebook page-- Voce di Meche-- to see the gorgeous costumes. And do plan to attend the performance Saturday night at 8:00!
(c) meche kroop