OPERA NEWS - Orphée et Eurydice
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In Review > North America

Orphée et Eurydice

Lyric Opera of Chicago

In Review Chicago Orfeo hdl 1217
Andriana Chuchman, Gluck’s Eurydice at Lyric Opera of Chicago
© Todd Rosenberg Photography

LYRIC OPERA OF CHICAGO had a triumphant season-opening on September 23 with a virtually note-complete production of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, performed in collaboration with the Joffrey Ballet. Gluck’s revision of his 1762 Italian opera, prepared for Paris in 1774, expands the score and introduces a crucial element of dance. As conceived by director, choreographer and designer John Neumeier of the Hamburg Ballet, Lyric’s mounting of Orphée was a remarkable fusion of genres that brilliantly reimagined this classic for a contemporary audience.

The only musical excisions involved roughly five minutes of instrumental interludes; every bit of vocal writing was performed, under the superb leadership of conductor Harry Bicket, who drew sensational nuance and verve from the Lyric Opera Orchestra. Dmitry Korchak scored a formidable house debut as Orphée. The Russian tenor’s voice is intrinsically appealing, with a slightly reedy quality in its uppermost reaches. Though his voice is light in texture, his sound filled the theater with seeming ease: the coloratura of “L’espoir renaît dans mon âme” was dispatched with velocity, and his intelligently shaped “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” was exquisite and affecting. Andriana Chuchman, a graduate of Lyric Opera’s Ryan Center, was his Eurydice. Her lovely lyric soprano has matured in womanly authority yet retains a bright, youthful ring on high. She is also an actress of dramatic pith, and she handled the choreography assigned to her with precision and grace. Lauren Snouffer’s boyish Amour was entirely convincing in travesti, and her soprano pealed through the music delightfully. Michael Black’s chorus sang from the pit, their voices soaring into the house most impressively.

Neumeier’s staging revealed a mirrored studio during the overture, in which choreographer Orphée, assisted by stage manager Amour, rehearsed his troupe in a new ballet inspired by Arnold Böcklin’s evocative painting The Isle of the Dead. News arrived via cell phone that his wife, Eurydice, had been killed in an automobile accident. The mirrored walls then broke apart into three mobile boxes that variously reconfigured to suggest the labyrinth-like passages of Hades or a huge replica of the Böcklin painting when Orphée reached the shores of Elysium.

Associate designer Heinrich Tröger and lighting wizard Chris Maravich deftly assisted Neumeier in realizing his concept. There was a stunning moment in “L’Amour triomphe” when Orphée flinched upon hearing Eurydice’s solo; after that, she slipped away poignantly. We suddenly realized that she was not physically present but now existed only in his mind and heart, where her memory fuels his artistry, which was then gloriously fulfilled in a final ballet. We were left with an image of Orphée lovingly clutching her veil. Neumeier conceived their reunification as a metaphor for human loss and mourning.

There were some minor complaints; the fatal onstage car crash was over the top, and a dramatic pause taken afterward was so insanely long that several patrons audibly wondered whether some technical error had occurred. 

The Joffrey Ballet’s contribution was nothing short of magnificent: forty-three of the company’s dancers executed Neumeier’s angular choreography with astonishing technical aplomb on the stage of what will be the ballet company’s new home. The day before the Orphée opening, the Joffrey and Lyric Opera announced that the dance company will move its performances from the Auditorium Theatre, where it has danced since 1998, to the Lyric Opera House. The Joffrey will remain in residence at the Auditorium through the 2019–20 season, after which it will become the resident ballet company at the Lyric Opera House; the tentative plans are to have the Joffrey and Lyric Opera alternate weeks of performances.

Whatever the future holds for the two companies, their collaboration on Orphée afforded Chicago audiences a unique experience. Opera doesn’t get any grander than this.  —Mark Thomas Ketterson

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