|The Big Muddy Dance Company|
Photo by Ken Howard
Gluck's original was innovative in the way it simplified an art form that had become noted for its convoluted plots and elaborate staging. Gluck and his librettist produced a streamlined work that concentrated entirely on the story of Orpheus and his journey to the underworld to bring his wife Euridice back to the land of the living. There are no extraneous subplots and all the music and dance sequences are designed to serve the story.
The Opera Theatre production honors that idea with a minimalist, modern dress approach. The action plays out on a bare stage, with the various settings suggested by video projections on the upstage wall.
Costuming is simple as well. Orfeo wears a black leather jacket. The demons in Hades wear white masks and long red raincoats, while the blessed spirits in Elysium are all in white and completely covered in translucent veils. Amore, the god of love, whimsically sports "distressed" jeans, a backpack, and deliberately cheesy wings with lights. Its fun, but classical it ain't.
Photo by Ken Howard
What really makes this "Orfeo" work, though, are the performances by the stellar cast, headed by mezzo Jennifer Johnson Cano as Orfeo (originally written for a male castrato, the part is usually sung by a mezzo today). She has a wide-ranging voice with an impressive lower register and sufficient flexibility to easily navigate the showy Act I aria in which Orfeo declares his determination to journey to Hades to bring back Euridice.
Soprano Andriana Chuchman is Euridice. She has a rich soprano that flows like liquid gold. Soprano Maria Valdes radiates cocky juvenile confidence as Amore but is also warmly sympathetic as she comforts Orfeo. Her voice has a lightness that was an excellent match for the character.
St. Louis' own Big Muddy Dance Company performs the ballet sequences. Whether they're portraying threatening demons, graceful Elysian spirits, or giddy revelers, they fill the stage with life and color.
Opera Theatre's eccentric and entertaining "Orfeo and Euridice" runs in rotating repertory with three other operas through June 21st at the Loretto-Hilton Center on the Webster University campus. It's sung in English with projected English text. For more information: experienceopera.org.