|David Daniels as Orfeo.|
Photo by Marty Sohl © 2007 The Metropolitan Opera.
As part of my subscription for the 2007-2008 season (more on what I'm seeing in a future edition of this blog) I was lucky enough to get tickets for the Monday dress rehearsal of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice, one of the hottest tickets in the final weeks of the spring opera season. I know that we critic types aren't realy supposed to write about dress rehearsals, bit it was such a significant performance that I am going to share my thoughts below. Yes the review is running a little late, but, here it is. Enjoy.
The star of this new Orfeo is the superb countertenor of David Daniels. Daniels specializes in baroque opera, singing with a high-pitched "head voice" (not unlike Jon Anderson of the rock band Yes). In 1997, his performance as Arsamene in Handel's Xerxes at the City Opera (opposite Lorraine Hunt Lieberson) was almost single-handedly responsible for the baroque opera revival that New York has enjoyed in the last ten years. Ms. Lieberson was originally supposed to sing Orfeo in this new Met production. She died last year, and Daniels stepped in to sing her commitments. The production is dedicated to her memory.
Gluck's opera retells an ancient myth, one of death and rebirth. Orpheus is the greatest musician the world has ever known. When his wife dies, he goes down into the Underworld to reclaim her. Unfortunately, he disobeys the edict of the Greek gods and looks at and speaks to Eurydice. When he does, she is lost to him forever. The opera adds a happy deus ex machina ending, where Eros restores the lovers to life. Historically, Orfeo marked a turning point for opera, away from the filigrees of the baroque era and toward the clean classicism of Mozart and Haydn.
David Daniels gives a powerful performance in the title role, with notes of Elvis and Buddy Holly in this modern staging. His countertenor remains a smooth-flowing, flexible instrument that can negotiate the highest parts of Handel and Gluck with dizzying speed and accuracy. Heidi Grant Murphy, descending (literally) from the heavens, brought perk and energy to the role of Amor, the God of Love who makes all things possible. Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska blended well with Daniels as Euridice.
The new production is spare, with choristers arranged on three stadium tiers above the action, commenting and singing like an old-fashioned Greek chorus. They are dressed as various historical figures, from Queen Elizabeth I and Abe Lincoln to Babe Ruth and John Lennon. The Met's choral forces were a powerful storm surge in this opera. Mention must also be made of the ballet forces. Director/choreograher Mark Morris created challenging choreography to dance, and they made the most of this ballet-heavy opera. James Levine led an exuberant reading of the score in the pit.