Love, Loss and What Orfeo Wore

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There’s a beautiful sense of renewal in Mark Morris's production of Orfeo ed Euridice, now running in a revival at the Metropolitan Opera through next Saturday. Through nearly all of the opera’s 90 minutes, Morris tempers dark, gray industrialism of the Underworld with a pure brightness of Elysium. Finally, after Orfeo is reunited with his wife a second time and Amore truly does conquer all, a rainbow of colors is introduced into the costumes of a tireless troupe of 22 dancers.

True, the costumes look like designer Isaac Mizrahi raided the last few seasons of his Target line (all of the money must have gone to clothing the Met chorus’s cast of dead celebrities). But the effect is still striking and it’s easy to overlook the glittering khakis and polo shirts. Morris’s operatic productions can border on sensory overload and become superfluous, but in this Orfeo, the elements come together subtly, with a balance of the visceral and restrained. Here is a Morris production that stops at third base and drives you home in time for curfew.

Musically and thematically, Gluck’s warm opera is a welcome addition this time of year as a solid thaw finally seems to set over New York. Striking, too, that after a season at the Met that came off as musically half-baked, the orchestra, chorus and soloists should sound so exquisite on Wednesday night. In his debut run with the Met, Anthony Walker led an energized orchestra and painted with a full aural palette. Also heard for the first time on the Met stage was British soprano Kate Royal. Her earthy Eurydice was not as regal as her name may indicate, but it had a shaking vulnerability and grounded David Daniels’s high-flying countertenor. She was the coffee to his cream. Royal’s grounded timbre was also a match for Lisette Oropesa’s angelic and dulcet voice, which soared over the action just as the singer soared over the stage.Orfeo

Seeing Daniels in the title role, however, it’s impossible not to feel a pang of loss for what might have been. As James Oestreich also noted in The New York Times earlier this week, this role (which Daniels created for the 2007 premiere of this production) was originally slated for mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, who died in 2006. With the death of Hunt Lieberson’s widower, composer Peter Lieberson, still fresh in our minds as well, the ideas of loss and resurrection rang even more potent in this particular run of Orfeo. But perhaps that was why the performance was all the more comforting. In death or in life, we’re given hope that lovers like Orfeo and Eurydice will ultimately be reunited. It’s bolstering to think of Lieberson and Hunt Lieberson as doing the same in the curious afterlife.

On this blog, Fred Plotkin asked readers how they feel about the death of varied operatic characters—from noble sacrifices like Gilda’s to antiheroic demises like Don Giovanni’s. Of course, whether that character remains dead or is revived like Eurydice, such moments are contained in the opera. And as much as we see and hear death at the opera, real life still comes as a shock. Fortunately, no matter how many luminaries we lose down here on earth, the art lives on.