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Seattle Opera Orphee et Eurydice


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#1 Helene

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 12:09 AM

Tonight I saw a performance of Gluck's 1774 French version of "Orphee et Eurydice", sans the opera-ending ballet music. All of the designers were "in-house": Costume Designer Heidi Zamora, making her main stage debut, although she has designed for the Young Artists Program and specific costumes for SO productions, Lighting Designer Connie Yun, who made her SO debut in "Die Fledermaus", and Set Designer Phillip Lienau, also in a debut. The sets and costumes were relatively plain: the Elysian Fields had a sculptural tree mid-to-downstage right extending 2/3 across the stage, and there was a small, grassy hill leading upstage, used effectively by Director Jose Maria Condemi (chorus) and choreographer Yannis Adouniou (seven dancers). Except for Eurydice's flowing Greek dress, the chorus and Orphee's costumes could have fit into a Mark Morris production, with Amor in a tiered reddish-orange dress with big gold wings and knee-high gold boots to match the gold bicycle, her preferred method of transportation.

Conductor Gary Thor Wedow had made his debut with SO in another great Gluck score, "Iphigenie en Tauride", and under him, the orchestra played with the same underlying drama, urgency, and clarity as they did in "Iphigenie".

General Director Speight Jenkins explained in the program notes that Gluck was writing "reform opera" when he composed the first version in Italian, to right opera back on the course when it was devised in the 17th century from what he called the "canary contest" school of opera, but in the Q&A, he called it "reform opera that is forward-looking", noting its musical continuity and marriage of text/drama and music. He noted that Gluck revised and extended the opera when he received a commission in Paris from Marie Antoinette, a former pupil when she was reared in Vienna, adding dance music that was a requirement in Paris, but also fortifying the orchestra for the superior Paris orchestras, re-writing Orpheus as a tenor -- originally a castrato -- and adding a tour de force aria for Orphee before he descends into Hades. (This aria is full of runs and trills.)

While the dancers often blended into the chorus, there were several notable times when they didn't. The first was in the scene in Hades, where as Furies, wearing stretchy tubes over their arms and upper bodies ending in hoods, , surrounded Orphee to prevent him from entering the underworld. By stretching the tubes with their arms and head, their undulating movements were eerie and threatening. In the Elysian Fields scene, they were striking when they slid down the hill -- they would have made Paul Taylor proud -- and after the "Dance of the Blessed spirits", two couples danced the instructions from the gods that Orphee could neither look at Eurydice until they returned (to the Earth's surface) nor explain why he couldn't look at her, through the consequences if Orphee disobeyed.

If there was one directorial miss, it was overestimating the intelligence of the audience and following the tone of the music, by having Eurydice calmly follow Orphee out of the Elysian Fields (end Act I, as performed here) and into the beginning of Act II. Her transformation into a doubting wife looked sudden, and her declarations that he didn't love her were met by "knowing" laughter in the audience. (Some laughed longer than others, like the grown-up woman next to me who also commented throughout and started to sing out of tune when she recognized the lead-in to the opera's only non-"Chaconne" greatest hit.)

Not that Davinia Rodriguez, the Eurydice didn't try: she is a beautiful singing actress. She doesn't have very much to sing compared to Orphee, and most of what she does is an extended version of "Ach, Ich full's", which is thankless dramatically, especially when the audience is laughing as if watching Erica Kane in another diva-like snit. She sounded a little strained, unlike her Lucia last year, but just a little, and her voice blended beautifully with William Burden's in the great last act extended duet.

Burden, for whom Jenkins staged the opera, was the undisputed star, dramatically and vocally, with extraordinary breath control in the long phrases, and focused, golden tone. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful ensemble effort from all three singers, including Julianne Gearhart's high-spirited Amor, the chorus, the dancers, and the musicians.

Burden, Rodriguez, and Gearhart sing all six performances, including tomorrow afternoon, Wednesday night, and next Saturday night. This is definitely worth seeing and hearing. The live broadcast was tonight; the Q&A with Jenkins can be downloaded from the KING-FM site (www.king.org).

#2 sandik

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 12:39 PM

"tiered reddish-orange dress with big gold wings and knee-high gold boots to match the gold bicycle, her preferred method of transportation."

Such style!

#3 Jayne

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 03:57 PM

Last minute substitution for today's performance - Andrew Stenson to replace William Burdon as Orphee. This was just announced on Facebook, apparently Burdon suffered a minor injury at last night's performance.

#4 Helene

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Posted 04 March 2012 - 11:40 PM

Here's the blog entry that was linked to the Facebook announcement:
http://www.seattleop...-at-todays.html

The short version: Oh, my, lordy, the boy can sing, wow, wow, wow. I can't believe he's in his 20's.

I was trying to be ecological and brought back my "Orphee" program from yesterday and missed the insert announcing Stenson's appearance this afternoon, and I had already left when the Facebook notice was posted. Speight Jenkins made a pre-curtain speech, and said that William Burden had sprained his ankle badly last night, and was told by his doctors to stay off of it for a couple of days. He should be fine by Wednesday, and Jenkins elaborated a bit in the Q&A after the performance, where the first 1/3 of the Q&A was about Stenson. From where I was sitting last night, it looked like Burden tripped and caught himself near the end of the final scene. Jenkins said that from the radio booth, he could see that Burden turned on his ankle. I guess adrenaline kicked in, because he wasn't limping for the rest of the act or the curtain calls, but in his dressing room, he told Jenkins that his ankle was swollen. By this morning it was really swollen, and after seeing a doctor, he was told to ice and elevate it for 36 hours. Burden was willing to sing today, but Jenkins said that because the opera is so focused on the three characters, it wasn't a candidate for one singer to sing from the side while his cover lip-synched and acted the part, and there was no reason for Burden to go on stage in pain.

According to Jenkins, as a cover, Stenson was given rehearsal time, including one-on-one time with the Assistant Stage Director, and he did the piano tech and final dress rehearsal. Stenson looked wonderfully prepared, and he's alone onstage or separated physically from Eurydice; I can't imagine there was much collegial whispering going on. I don't know if he's taken movement classes or has a dance background apart from the standard young artist kind of training, but he moved very well, and his acting was very focused and confident, especially in the difficult scene in Hades, where the Furies dance around him to a longish orchestral part, and he has to hold the magic lyre to defend himself.

Jenkins said that he couldn't wait to get onstage, and that he knew that he would sing the way he did. It was an entirely confident performance, different from Burden's. His voice isn't quite as big -- he's a lot younger -- but it has a beautiful tone, and in styling, pacing, and phrasing, apart from his impassioned and more operatic rendition of "J'ai perdu mon Eurydice", it was a like hearing a mature oratorio singer. I remember once that George Jellinek did a program on "The Vocal Scene" where he described different vocal effects, and Stenson gave a class in it, all sung with beautiful breath control.

I recognized Stenson's name and knew I had seen him in a small role -- I thought, perhaps, from "La Traviata" -- but he was Arturo in "Lucia di Lammermoor" last year, so he'd performed with Davinia Rodriguez before. There was an extra ardency in her voice today, and when the curtain came down, there was a roar of cheers and applause from behind the curtain, the type that can be heard after the final performance of "Die Gotterdammerung". To say it was well-deserved is an understatement, and it was great to hear the company cheering one of its own.

If I had children, I'd be storing this up as one to tell the grandchildren.

#5 bart

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 06:37 AM

It's wonderful to read about the Seattle Orfeo ed Euridice. Thanks, Helene. I used to be able to see a Seattle Opera production every once in a while and was invariably impressed. (Aida in the Caiaro Museum; a Walkyrie where the women rode carousel horses.)

Also: Stories about last-minute replacements always get heart beating a little faster. (For example, the replacement Aida at the Met, featured in today's NY Times.) http://www.nytimes.c...?_r=1&ref=music

Palm Beach Opera did Orfeo last season. I hadn't seen it for decades -- a time when Orfeo was invariably a mezzo (Marilyn Horne is the one I remember seeing on stage). So it was almost a "new" opera for me. I was bowled over by the beauty of the music and how well it works as a performance piece. I

Palm Beach Opera has a New York-centered and relatively sophisticated opera audience. They have been able to cast young, well-connected singers -- many of them American trained -- in all kinds of major rep. In this case, Orfeo was a young Princeton graduate, Anthony Roth Costanzo, who recently appeared in the Met's Enchanted Island. The Euridice was even younger, Nadine Sierra, who is now on the West Coast as an Adler Fellow at SF Opera. Both were absolutely lovely.

Our production was semi-staged, with with orchestra seated on risers at the back of the stage. This limited the choreographic possibilities for the dancers, of course. But, having to keep them far downstage gave an eerie frieze-like look to the work. Even the Furies weren't inhibited (much).

What did you think about the contempory costuming and design at Seattle? PB's was more generic -- something out of a mixed bag labelled "classical" -- as I recall. Am trying to figure out whether an Orfeo in long johns and leather-jacket would be plausible? Or distracting? Or what?

#6 sandik

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 10:21 AM

Here's the blog entry that was linked to the Facebook announcement:
http://www.seattleop...-at-todays.html

The short version: Oh, my, lordy, the boy can sing, wow, wow, wow. I can't believe he's in his 20's.

...

If I had children, I'd be storing this up as one to tell the grandchildren.


Wow, what a drama. I'm wincing at the idea that a sprained ankle is keeping him from singing! But a great opportunity for the understudy, and it sounds like he came through with extra sparkles!

#7 Helene

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Posted 05 March 2012 - 11:32 AM

Also: Stories about last-minute replacements always get heart beating a little faster. (For example, the replacement Aida at the Met, featured in today's NY Times.) http://www.nytimes.c...?_r=1&ref=music

I've been reading about Lavinia Moore on the Opera-L list. (I was on a bus to Seattle during the broadcast.) It's always exciting to hear about a great last-minute debut under pressure. Moore is only 33; in singer years, though, that's a big difference in experience. (Moore had already sung major roles in European opera houses.)

Friday and Sunday audiences at Seattle Opera usually hear the alternate cast. (It looks like they've stopped describing it as the "silver" cast, and "gold" is now the "opening" cast, usually changing the top principals only.) It's a rare production at SO where the Friday/Sunday audiences get to hear the generally more experienced cast. Usually it's during the summer production, if there's no "Ring" scheduled, and, occasionally, when they give six instead of eight performances, there is a single scheduled cast, like in "Orphee et Eurydice". (For "Atilla", there were six performances, but an alternate cast for the single Sunday matinee.) Here, there was a lot of disappointment at hearing that Burden would not be singing -- I heard a lot of it in the lobbies before the opera and at intermission, although by intermission, the comments were mostly "I'm disappointed to have missed Burden, but this guy is good!" -- which, if Stenson been cast originally, would not have been the case. Burden is still one of my favorite current tenors, if not my favorite, in the non-Wagner rep, and I'm sorry he was hurt. I'm not sorry to have heard Stenson, though, not one bit, but, of course, I got to hear Burden on Saturday night, as did the broadcast audience.

I'm a big fan of the alternate casts. Sometimes, it's because there are singers that Jenkins loves and puts in the opening casts and who aren't my favorites, and I prefer the alternate cast singers. Once in a while, between the time the alternate cast singers are hired and when they sing, they have great success elsewhere in the world, and they become the attraction. Most often, it's a great chance to hear generally younger North American singers, many of whom have been trained in the great developing artists programs and who have wonderful acting skills and ensemble ability, or young European singers who've sung in rep companies in Europe and often make their North American or US debut with the company, like the fine Atilla, Kares. I try to see at least one of each, and I'm lucky that there are back-to-back Saturday night/Sunday matinee performances that I can hear on a weekend trip.

Speight Jenkins, who looks at these things long-term, said in the Q&A that Seattle Opera may have struck tenor gold twice, first with Lawrence Brownlee -- another of my favorite tenors - and now with Stenson, but, having decades of experience in seeing the arcs of careers, stated this in the conditional. One of my operatic joys was hearing Brownlee young and listening to his voice strengthen and grow, in his case retaining its agility and gleam, with his great underlying technique. A similar experience for New York City Opera goers was hearing Samuel Ramey's voice mature from his 30's to his mid-50's. Stenson isn't close to his prime, but what was most striking to me was having such style in addition to technique. It's a long road to a career, but starting with a role in a version that isn't produced much because there are few tenors who can sing it, and performing it so beautifully, is a great start, and I'll happily follow his career.

What did you think about the contempory costuming and design at Seattle? PB's was more generic -- something out of a mixed bag labelled "classical" -- as I recall. Am trying to figure out whether an Orfeo in long johns and leather-jacket would be plausible? Or distracting? Or what?

It was contemporary, but almost Paul Taylor/Mark Morris contemporary. Orphee was costumed in a kind of Indian-style white hippie wear, although he wore shoes, not sandals. (No leather jackets here.) Outside of the Hades scene, the chorus and males dancers were dressed in a similar style, but in a range of light blue to aqua or turquoise or medium blues, with the women in matching colors in loose, long dresses. The dance women's dresses were in similar colors, but they were sleeveless, more fitted at the waist, and cut below the knee, a lot like the dresses in "Esplanade".

I thought the sets and costumes were lovely. Someone at the Q&A yesterday said the Elysian Fields/final scene set reminded them of the Windows desktop background, which is so true! That might not have played well in Apple and Google lands, but it worked very well in Seattle.

#8 Helene

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Posted 06 March 2012 - 10:44 AM

A couple of notes:

The audience treated the Orphee and Eurydice ascent from Hades scene much more seriously Sunday afternoon. Maybe there was more drinking at the Saturday night pre-opera dinners.

Because Gluck pointed to Wagner in his dramatic and musical approach, it was fun to see Amor handing out golden apples to the crowd.

#9 Tardis

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 12:46 AM

I found this topic when I was looking for "Andrew Stenson" on the Internet.
I had to write something about him.
I heard him sing in Cosi Fan Tutte this Monday in New York. It was a joint production with the Met and Juilliard.
It's odd how similar my story is with your story.
Stenson was actually the cover tenor for Ferrando. The lead Ferrando was indisposed for Act 2 and Stenson sang off stage while the lead mimed.
He was unbelievable.
His "Ah, lo veggio" was the best I have heard. I am not sure the audience fully realized what they heard that night. "Ah, lo veggio" is NOT an easy aria. It often gets cut out from Cosi.
Stenson made it sound easy. It was just unbelievable.
Your description is spot on. It was like hearing a mature [font=helvetica, arial, sans-serif][size=4]oratorio [/size][/font]singer.

#10 Helene

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Posted 22 November 2012 - 10:13 AM

Thank you for posting, Tardis. It's exciting to hear about Stenson again.

He seems to have a carrer niche, as rare as finding a good Siegfried: singing the most difficult, often-skipped arias, as if they were written for him.


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