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Orpheus and Eurydice

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LA Opera’s new production of Gluck’s Orpheus & Eurydice is, in a word, breathtaking. A magical blending of song and dance that owes its power to the vision of director, choreographer, and designer, John Neumeier.

 

Until fairly recently, Orpheus & Eurydice was the oldest opera in the general repertoire of the major opera houses. When it first premiered in 1762, the opera was trailblazing. It rejected the excesses of Handel and other opera seria conventions. It returned to a simpler, more direct, and less ornate style of performance which more reflected what the late Renaissance creators of opera had intended.

 

Gluck revised his opera for the Paris premiere in 1774. As the Parisian audience was ballet-mad, Gluck added liberally to the existing dance music. He also changed the central role of Orpheus from a castrato to a tenor, as the French were singularly unimpressed by the vocal pyrotechnics of the castrati. The original Italian version is the one most frequently revived, but the French version is Neumeier’s choice.

The mythological plot is simplicity itself. Eurydice has died and the grieving Orpheus talks the gods into allowing him to travel to the underworld to retrieve her. Their one command is that he not turn back to look on her face until they return to the earth. Of course, he cannot resist her pleas and turns around. The myth ends in tragedy, but the opera was designed with a happy ending in which Orpheus is forgiven and Euridycie joins him in a happy life.

Neumeier updates the opera to a contemporary urban setting. Orpheus (Maxim Mironov) is no longer a composer/singer, but a choreographer. The often omitted overture is used to introduce Orpheus working with his corps de ballet in a rehearsal studio. Eurydice (Lisette Oropesa) is his headstrong lead dancer who arrives late. They quarrel, she slaps him, and flounces out of the rehearsal. A few minutes later comes the fateful phone call – Eurydice has been killed in a car accident.

Orpheus’ world spins out of control, and Neumeier makes this feeling all the more potent with his sleek and swirling set pieces which chart the progress of this trip to the Underworld and back. The mirrored surfaces and Eurydice's passing through as a ghostly bride slyly reference Cocteau’s film version of the myth, but this is no collection of borrowed images. Neumeier has concocted an irresistible visual feast that stands proudly on its own.

Much of the visual dynamism comes from the astounding dancers of the Joffrey Ballet. Whether terrifying us as demonically grasping shades or enchanting us as spirits of compassion in flowing white robes, their grace and artistry add a powerful emotional depth to the opera.

Mironov is a handsome and hardy Orpheus. His nimble tenor has no problem with the role’s high tessitura, nor does the voice show any hint of exhaustion, though he’s onstage for nearly the entire opera. He also manages to look the part of a choreographer. Oropesa makes a lovely Eurydice, and one can understand braving hell for her. She sings with style and sensitivity and moves beautifully. The other singing role in the opera belongs to the god Amor. In Neumeier’s staging, she is also Orpheus’ assistant. Liv Redpath sings the role with a charming vivacity.

As always, James Conlon brings the highest musical standards to his conducting, though he opts out of period instruments. The signing chorus is relegated to the pit, but that does not hinder its excellent sound.

Neumeier’s ingenious stagecraft and his galvanizing work with the dancers bring a contemporary feel to the production without losing the story’s ancient power. This is summed up in the production’s final moments when he eschews both the myth’s tragedy and the opera’s naively happy ending for a completely modern note of ambiguity.

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion    March 10 – 25, 2018    www.laopera.org/orpheus  Photo credit: Ken Howard

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.