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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 09
Orpheé is bliss at Seattle Opera
Arts & Entertainment
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Orpheé is bliss at Seattle Opera

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

Orphée et Eurydice
McCaw Hall
Through March 10


Opera is such a complex art form that it's rare to find all the elements perfectly in place: sets and costumes appealing and appropriate, singers just right and in good form, orchestra and chorus led by a gifted and technically effective conductor, telling stage direction and stunning lighting, and, as a bonus, interesting and apt ballet. Rare indeed, but that's what we have in Seattle Opera's new production of Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice. Performances run through March 10. If you like opera at all, don't miss it!

It's hard to say which was more satisfying: what the eyes saw, or what the ears heard. Visually, this was a perfect example of how to produce the best effect with the least material. Stage pictures of each scene were stunning, right from the first moment when the curtain rose. Timeless and abstract, the sets were appealing both in form and color. Not since the nearly perfect production of Britten's Turn of the Screw many seasons ago can I remember more effective and attractive use of colors and lighting on such spare yet beautiful settings. Coupled with effective movement of the chorus and soloists, the result somehow left one free to hear the music more than if the eye were dazzled by more elaborate visions.

And conductor Gary Thor Wedow made the most of Gluck's inspired music. This is an opera that moves rather slowly over not much territory: earth, Pluto's terrifying realm, and some kind of afterlife paradise. Gluck illustrates each with always vivid musical painting, with light, heavenly flute sharply contrasted to the loud trombones and horns of the land of the furies. (Principal flute Demarre McGill should have had a stage bow at the close for his lovely solo during the dance of the blessed spirits.) Wedow not only sparked each of Gluck's strokes, but he also kept the lively orchestra in perfect synch with the chorus and other stage movements. Textures were nearly those of a 'period' orchestra, aided by Pacific MusicWorks founder Stephen Stubbs plucking away on either guitar or theorbo. It may be a slow-moving opera, but there was never a dull moment in this production.

William Burden's super-focused, bright timbre may not be to everyone's taste, but for my ears, his shimmering vibrato polishes his tone into a most appealing shine. Couple that with his sensitive phrasing and smooth legato, and we hear a consummate artist. He proved that he is still in his prime; his coloratura was most impressive despite the high tessitura. A fine actor, his performance just got stronger as the evening progressed. It's a long, demanding role, which he will be singing Sunday afternoon after another performance the evening before!

Although we saw Eurydice's body in the first scene, we did not hear her sing until much later, when Davinia Rodriguez walked into the scene in the Elysian Fields, looking ever so much like Angelina Jolie (in The Tourist)! Fortunately, she sang every bit as beautifully as she looked, revealing a voice of various colors: warm yet bright, with plenty of power. Lovely soft singing contrasted with strong outbursts. Her beauty made Orphée's love understandable despite her annoying insecurity as she pushed him beyond endurance in Act Two.

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