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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Opera Review: High Notes From Underground

David Daniels as Orfeo. Photo by Marty Sohl.
© 2007 The Metropolitan Opera
Orfeo ed Euridice at the Met

Friday night at the Metropolitan Opera marked the welcome return of David Daniels as Orfeo in the company's Mark Morris production of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice.

Mr. Daniels is a countertenor, a voice type that sits close to the range of male alto castrato, the vocal type which Gluck had in mind when he wrote the opera in 1762. But his powerful, thrilling voice possesses none of the reediness or watery timbre that is so often heard in this kind of singing.

As Orfeo, Mr. Daniels spends this production clad in black and slinging an acoustic guitar, a Greek mythological equivalent of Johnny Cash, or perhaps, given the singer's good looks: Elvis Presley. He has a rich and flexible instrument has a full, round sound, akin to an alto flute, but more robust. He is also capable of feats of vocal agility, as displayed last night in his high-flying arias and long Act III duet with his Euridice, played by British soprano Kate Royal in her Met debut.

The opera follows his quest to retrieve his wife Euridice from the Hades, aided by Amor, (Lisette Oropesa) a high-flying represenatation of the God of Love. Mr. Morris' dancers make the most of Gluck's extensive, inventive ballet music, aided by the Met chorus in the depiction of Furies and heroes who block and aid Orfeo on his Chthonian quest.

The best part of the evening was the long duet between Ms. Royal and Mr. Daniels. Their voices intertwined perfectly, capturing the very human drama that Gluck was intending: a husband and a wife struggling to reunite under nearly impossible circumstances. When Orfeo finally brought himself to look at Euridice--an act which returned her to the underworld, it was a potent, moving moment that illustrated the dramatic power of this simple opera.

The action of this 90-minute opera takes place in front of a set of three tiered balconies, with 72 members of the Met chorus decked out magnificently as historical characters from disparate eras, from Genghis Khan to Abraham Lincoln and everyone in between. But given the crucial role played by the chorus in this opera and the high quality of their singing, they would have sounded great if they were in burlap sacks.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.