OPERA NEWS - Orpheus
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In Review > North America

Orpheus

NEW YORK CITY
New York City Opera
5/15/12

In Review Orpheus hdl 812
NYCO's staging of Telemann's Orpheus, with Meredith Lustig, Rowley, Teadt and Harvey
© Carol Rosegg 2012

With its vibrant, absorbing production of Telemann's Orpheus, seen on May 15, New York City Opera finished its 2011–12 season with a win. Conceived for the cosmopolitan, commercial city of Hamburg, Telemann's 1724 retelling of the classical myth, balancing a familiar musical style with quirkiness and sophistication, proved an apt fit for today's audience, while the 600-seat Museo del Barrio brought a sense of intimacy to the concentrated forces and highlighted their confident energy.

The talented Baroque specialist Gary Thor Wedow presided over a nineteen-piece orchestra that sounded both warm and crisp in the somewhat dry acoustic, and continuo players (who included Wedow on the harpsichord-like virginals) had constant contact with the stage. Wedow's tempos and sense of style were perfect, while minimal cuts respected Telemann's eclectic style, which mixes German, Italian and French texts and musical forms. Even the division of three acts into two was effectively executed.

On another positive note, stage director Rebecca Taichman enhanced, rather than fought, the storyline, with the addition of a dancer (the excellent Catherine Miller) representing Death in the form of a slithery, aggressively sensual serpent. The opera begins with a directorial challenge in the form of three sequential arias by Orasia, a character completely foreign to the traditional Orpheus story. Taichman used the overture to depict Orpheus and Eurydice's happy and boozy wedding reception, so that Orasia's striking entrance through the audience marked her as the unwanted outsider, a queen hopelessly in love with her court singer, and the three arias unfolded logically and effectively.

For Orpheus's journey to the underworld in search of the dead Eurydice — killed, he learns, by a serpent sent from the jealous Orasia — Taichman presented Pluto as a slick executive, whose busy assistants were outfitted with laptops and headsets. Profoundly moved by Orpheus's music, Pluto allows him to lead Eurydice back to earthly life, with the familiar caveat and its disastrous results. Donald Holder's lighting was especially effective at the agonizing moment when the desperate Orpheus turns back to Eurydice. Finally Orasia kills the miserable Orpheus and then herself, vowing to continue her pursuit into eternity.

Taichman's direction privileged physical action, with strikingly beautiful movements, but individual performers often seemed to struggle with characterization. In the title role, baritone Daniel Teadt undermined Orpheus's inherent dignity with fidgeting and wandering, especially in the gorgeous Act I aria "Ach, Tod," and his singing sounded needlessly aggressive. Jennifer Rowley's outsized vocal-dramatic personality was perfect for the outraged Orasia, though it took more than an hour for her diction to come into focus. Rowley's decidedly nineteenth-century musical aesthetic needs refinement, and a firmer musical hand might have helped eliminate scoops and swoops in favor of rhythmic accuracy.

With his focused, attractive tenor, Victor Ryan Robertson made a fine impression as Orpheus's friend Eurimedes, though his ornamentation skills and recitative singing need work. Nicholas Pallesen sang Pluto with glamorous sound, turning the aria "Ruhet, ihr Foltern" into one of the evening's highlights. Joélle Harvey was a physically and vocally lovely Eurydice, and smaller roles were strongly cast, especially soprano Michelle Areyzaga's warmly lyrical Ismene. spacer

JUDITH MALAFRONTE

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