LA Opera’s “Orpheus and Eurydice” Is a Dynamic Spectacle of Dance & Music
The following review is based on the March 15th performance.
The LA Opera continues to surprise audiences by choosing to run productions that are versatile in nature and challenge preconceptions of what is not only possible on stage, but how immersively gratifying a show can be when comprised of diverse elements, and when conveyed with just the right amount of know-how and sensitivity.
Largely the holistic vision of the legendary John Neumeier, who is the director, choreographer, set designer, lighting designer, and costume designer, along with 43 members of the Chicago-based and spectacular Joffrey Ballet (Artistic Director is Ashley Wheater), “Orpheus and Eurydice” is a gripping and heartfelt love saga that is scheduled to run through only March 25th at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. In an opera that is very “art imitates life,” and has relevant contemporary applications, the plot poetically traces the vantage point of Orpheus (Maxim Mironov), a choreographer of his own ballet, who imaginatively enters the Grecian mythological underworld of Hades — via the help of his assistant, the God of Love, Amour (Liv Redpath) — to earn passage into Elysium so he can retrieve and resurrect his enchantingly beloved and starring performer, Eurydice (Lisette Oropesa), after she tragically loses her life in a car accident. There is one major caveat communicated by Amour, however, which is that Orpheus cannot look at his wife until they’re back on Earth, or she will die again.
Composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck, with updated libretto by Pierre-Louis Moline, “Orpheus and Eurydice” – which is passionately conducted by James Conlon — has come a long way and yet has undoubtedly reaffirmed the indelibility of great works since it first premiered in Italian in 1762 (original libretto is by Ranieri de’ Calzabigi). LA Opera is presenting the French revision of 1774, which is more multifarious in its rawness, incorporating the medium of dance as a primary expression — also scored by Gluck, who evokes a spectrum of emotion, drawing on warmth amid the uncertainty and bad omens.
As an inspiration to both the Baroque and modern-day, there is a stark simplicity about the production that is radiant, yet dark; beautiful, yet frightening. It plays on our fears, though by the sleight of a reassuring hand, reminds us to live in the now, pushed forward by a remembrance of the past. In imparting this, the purposeful phraseology and poignant vocal bursts and recitatives of the performers run like tributaries into the bountifully vast gulf of overwhelmingly arresting melodies and movements.
Neumeier, who has led the Hamburg Ballet since 1973, is the creative force behind much of what the observer receives in this piece about the fallibility and frailty of the human condition. He ingeniously brings the narrative to present day without losing the luster of the opera’s intent. His set designs, beautifully contemporary in appearance, are appropriately minimalistic. We see the recurring motif of squares – both in 2-D and angular 3-D cubic form – whereupon the performers often stand and turn on an axis. In addition to stripped-bare scenery in the form of doors, mirrors and windows, a twin bed, a ballet studio, an outdoor/park bench, and a Yosemite-esque backdrop, we are able to fill in our emotions inside the outlines of the set pieces, framed by Neumeier’s glowing lighting, as we are impacted by themes of loss, fear, courage, and redemption.
Neumeier’s costume designs are similarly evocative, ranging from the normal, to the elegant, to the brazenly eccentric, and to the breathtaking. Orpheus is dressed in today’s attire, with black pants, long-sleeved top and a wine-colored scarf. Amour is also casually dressed in a brown coat and jeans, though the dancers can be seen in vivid purples, greens, and flowing whites; and, while in Hades, are wearing nefarious-looking headgear as the Furies, and are adorned in full-bodied silver as the Cerberus trio. There is a palpable contrast between Earth and the Underworld, and the symbolism of the costumes, particularly the white veil of Eurydice – who is recalled as Orpheus’ eternal bride – is heartbreakingly poignant. More potent, even, is the tableau of the three cast members’ stillness contrasted with the surrounding and ceaseless activity of the dancers, especially when Orpheus, with photos of his deceased wife held closely to his chest, is bordered by feverish energy.
All that said, Neumeier’s crowning achievement is his choreography here, executed with elegance and precision by the Joffrey Ballet. Ranging from fast-paced allegro to the pronounced grace of adagio combinations, the dancers effortlessly come in and out of our view, doing frappés, arabesques, promenades, piqués, port de bras, pirouettes, jetés, and practically everything in between, oftentimes with a modern flair. There is an invigorating tirelessness about the dancers as they spin in mid-air, stretch, jump, and leap in flurries, in a non-stop display of individual and partner fluidity that is unwavering in its majesty.
Although they’re all virtuoso talents, the real-life husband-and-wife duo of Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili stand out as the divine Blessed Spirit Couple during the Elysium scene for how well they balance and blend their bodies together. Likewise, Dylan Gutierrez, Alberto Velazquez, and Edson Barbosa (Yoshihisa Arai will take the latter’s place on 3/18 and 3/24) of the Cerberus triplet are outstandingly otherworldly in how they sustain the momentum and stakes of the Hades sequence with their unrelenting jumps, comprising as many as two whole revolutions. Overall, the dancers’ formations, and the flow in which they operate as seemingly one entity, emit a sense of exhilaration despite the agony and anguish inherent to the plot.
Providing the layered sounds guiding Orpheus’ dilemma, in both instrumental form, and by voicing the sentiments physically acted out by the dancers, are the LA Opera Orchestra, led by Conlon, and the Chorus, directed by Grant Gershon. The lamentations and comforting joy in Gluck’s music are lovingly manifested in the solemn plaintiveness of “Ah, se intorno a quest’urna funesta” / “Ah! Dans ce bois tranquille,” the foreboding tones of “Chi mai dell’Erebo” / “Quel est l’audacieux,” the liberating release and surrender of “Ah, quale incognito affetto flebile” / “Quels chants doux,” the tender graciousness of “Torna, o bella” / “Près du tendre objet qu’on aime,” and the tranquil reassurance of “L’Amour triomphe.”
Conlon and Gershon absolutely get the best out of their respective musicians and vocalists, who, like the dancers, work collaboratively with one another, albeit in the pit, to produce an artistic treat where the visual and the aural become inextricable, insofar that, as we watch the opera unfold, they are, as an effect of our enchantment, one and the same.
Last, but not least, of course, are the three main players, who eloquently get across the distress and aspirational elements of the story with not only their euphonious voices, but they’re underrated acting and non-verbal cues. Maxim Mironov makes for a tremendous Orpheus, as a wayfarer of his own spiritual ground and consciousness, who is beset by the pain of not only his initial loss, but the torture of once again having his wife within only arm’s reach, unable to look at her. Mironov’s tenor vocals are distinctly clear and exquisite, though plagued by grief, as in “Chiamo il mio ben cosi” / “Objet de mon amour” and the hair-raisingly thunderous torment in “Che farò senza Eurydice?” / “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice.” One can plainly hear his pleas to the Furies in his pitch-perfect voice when he counters them with “hell has no torment equal to what I feel” during “Men tiranne, ah! Voi sareste” / “La tendresse qui me presse.” Mironov’s most impressive moment, however, arguably comes when he covers a wide swath of notes with uncanny control, up and down a vocal ladder, when his character is informed of the quest (to potentially reclaim his wife) by Amour, at the end of Act I.
Soprano Liv Redpath plays a male as Amour, who is bittersweet to Orpheus as the guardian of his romantic fate. Redpath has a beatific essence about her projection that is as serene as flowers blooming in the springtime. Her arias in Act I – in which her persona describes the conditions of Orpheus’ journey – are soothing in how calming they are. And, although she has the least amount of stage time of the three principal roles, Redpath has a presence that tangibly lingers about her, and one that is welcomed with open arms when her character returns for a movingly surreal three-part harmony with Orpheus and Eurydice in the final act.
Lisette Oropesa is Eurydice, who exists in a state of restless purgatory throughout most of the production. Nonetheless – and paradoxically so – despite her sudden death, of which not even her youth could protect against (as sung by Mironov’s Orpheus), Eurydice is much more empowered than piteous. She slaps Orpheus during a disagreement at the outset, and when her husband doesn’t dare look at her in Elysium, she exclaims her displeasure without any qualms, wishing for another death over (perceived) disrespect. Clad mostly in a wedding dress, Oropesa brings resilient strength to the calamity looming over Eurydice, mobilizing her roaring coloratura that is equal parts lilting and honeydew-like. The most noteworthy instance of this is when Oropesa’s Eurydice painstakingly mourns her predicament of an ostensibly unloving husband in Act III (via the duet “Vieni, appaga il tuo consorte” / “Viens, suis un époux qui t’adore” and her solo aria “Che fiero momento” / “Fortune ennemie”), singing out with fervid, heart-wrenching pain that is as powerful as it is pleasant. Not to mention, Oropesa adeptly sings simultaneously while performing some choreography with the Joffrey Ballet, moving with a lithe light-footedness that impeccably befits her apparitional character.
Suffice it to say, “Orpheus and Eurydice” at the LA Opera receives the highest recommendation for being a production that expertly melds the mediums of dance, music, and scenic mood to become a unified pinnacle of artistic expression and human emotion. And, surely, while he receives ample assistance from James Conlon, Grant Gershon, the primary cast members, and particularly the mesmerizing Joffrey Ballet, this is predominantly John Neumeier’s project, who gloriously succeeds by mixing colors in his palette to create an unimaginably wondrous work of art. In its subject matter of pride, temptation, and loss of control, we are able to see ourselves and all our imperfections in this virtually perfect masterpiece.
There are only four performances of “Orpheus and Eurydice” remaining at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion: on Sunday, March 18th at 2 pm; on Wednesday, March 21st at 7:30 pm; on Saturday, March 24th at 7:30 pm; and on Sunday, March 25th at 2 pm.
For further information about “Orpheus and Eurydice,” and to purchase tickets, please visit laopera.org