Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Opera review: Orfeo ed Euridice

Composer: Christoph Willibald Gluck
Libretto: Ranieri de’Calzabigi
Conductor: Harry Bicket
Chorus Master: Sandra Horst
Director: Robert Carsen
Set and Costume Designer: Tobias Hoheisel
Lighting Designer: Robert Carsen and Peter Van Praet

Orfeo: Lawrence Zazzo
Euridice: Isabel Bayrakdarian
Amore: Ambur Braid

The Canadian Opera Company's excellent year comes to a close with another winner. Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck was a groundbreaking work when it was first performed 250 years ago, a reaction to the extravagance of opera seria. This is the COC's first ever production of the work and they manage to capture a freshness and excitement that makes it feel modern.

Based on the famous Greek myth, the production is performed in contemporary costumes of black luck  and dresses. The set consists of a bleak moonscape of grey stones and rubble. And the lighting is often just a single bright light from the wings casting a long shadow. This simplicity matches that of the music and the plot and is extremely effective.

The story by de’Calzabigi and Gluck was an Enlightenment reinterpretation that makes some changes, most notably with the ending. Likewise, Carsen's staging modifies the staging to remove all of the ballets that would have taken place. Instead, the chorus or the actors carry the audience interest with their actions.

The spare cast consists only of three characters and a chorus. All are excellent. It is a shame though that Isabel Bayrakdarian is so under-utlilized in the smaller part of Euridice. She dazzled in when called on in the third act. But it is Orfeo's story and Lawrence Zazzo proved to be exceptional in the role. I'm not generally a fan of countertenors, but he carried it convincingly and beautifully.

Harry Bicket and the COC's orchestra provide lean and balanced support. It was perhaps not completely "period" style, but it was informed by period practices. In the third act, there was one memorably beautiful orchestral swell from complete silence.

Overall, it is outstanding work from all involved and a triumphant end to a stellar season from the Canadian Opera Company.


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