Cher Public

happy spirit

All the way from exotic Portland, Operaman writes:

Yesterday I attended the Met HD transmission of Orfeo ed Euridice and, once I have told you my reactions and feelings about this show, I cannot wait to hear what members of your cher public who saw or heard it have to say about it. And I must let it be known immediately that I don’t purport to be able to critique this work with the sophistication or depth and breadth of knowledge displayed by so many of your correspondents. My views should be considered vox pop so I hope your readers will bear that in mind.

First, the piece. Gluck. Who knew? Maestro Levine, on camera before the show, described it as a “truly great, great masterpiece of music” and while I am used to the hyperbole with which conductors and directors describe their piece of the moment, in this case I don’t know how one could argue. One thing which surprised me was that it didn’t sound one bit derivative of anyone else’s work. Not like Mozart of course who was only, what, seven years old when Gluck wrote this Orfeo? But not like Handel or Purcell or anyone else with whose work I am familiar. This was sui generis – and how exciting for that. The writing is rich, colourful and shows a respect for the drama as expressed in the libretto in a way that alas is rare in opera of any period. 

Other than the Dance of the Blessed Spirits and “Che faro senza Euridice” I knew none of the score. How could I have missed the magnificent choruses all this time? How did I not know the music given to Orfeo which, while having been written for a castrato seems such a perfect fit for the (right) mezzo-soprano? It goes without saying that Levine and the orchestra were not just simpatico. As I sit here and remember the playing I think “ravishing” best describes the sound.

Okay, now tell me. Is there another mezzo-soprano on earth who currently can match the beauty of sound and musical intelligence of Stephanie Blythe? If she is not a superstar within the next 24 months then there is NO justice! No growling in the low register and no shrieking in the higher stuff. Just a totally seamless, mellifluous and truly gorgeous sound. It’s a big, big voice but she uses it in a way that says “I don’t need to shout. My merest whisper can bounce off the rear walls and stun you on its way back!”

My limited musical vocabulary doesn’t enable me to do justice to all Ms. Blythe brought to this performance. The shades of expression, the nuances she brought to this tragic tale. I believe that both David Daniels and J.D.deF. have both sung this piece relatively recently. I hope they didn’t hear Ms Blythe yesterday, for much as I like the voice of both those singers I cannot imagine they would not have heard themselves being totally out-classed in this role. I can hardly wait to see what star vehicle she is offered next. The Manhattan telephone book, you say? Are tickets still available? I am so there!

Both Mark Morris who was responsible for the production and choreography, and Isaac Mizrahi who designed the costumes, came in for a good deal of flack from the theater audience yesterday. As they left the auditorium I talked with people about the show (I was there representing Portland Opera) and many folks thought the dancing and the costumes were a big distraction. I kept hearing comments along the lines of “What was all that dancing supposed to mean?” That wasn’t my own view.

I don’t know Mark Morris’s work but I was rather pleasantly surprised by the dance pieces in this Orfeo. They were very , um, balletic(is that a word?) as opposed to being modern dance and while there were lengthy stretches where I wasn’t quite sure what the danceers were supposed to be telling us about the drama being played out before us I was quite happy to enjoy the dance as a purely abstract interpretation of the music. After all, no one asks what a minuet “means.” I can see why people may think that Mizrahi dressing the chorus as historical figures is somewhat chintzy but I liked it. My only criticism of the costuming would be that I found the modern dress of the dancers – including suits and ties, strangely at odds with the more historical look of the chorus.

But what the hell, most of the time I was listening to Stephenie Blythe anyway and when my attention was on the chorus it was because of the amazing sound they made. What has Donald Palumbo done to them this last couple of years? They have gone from being, I thought, rather ragged, to being very well disciplined and musically of the highest order. He must be cracking his whip in a most efficacious manner.

I have seen all of the Met movies save the Gala opening. I think I enjoyed this one the most. And ultimately that can be attributed to Gluck and Stephanie Blythe. Huzzah for them both, I say!