Orpheo ed Eurydice in Minnesota

Early music veteran
David Daniels alongside fresh-voiced soprano Susanna Phillips headline the
production. Stage director Lee Blakeley, British designer Adrian Linford, and
choreographer Arthur Pita collaborate to create a visually captivating
production, tapping into classical and raw humanistic elements. And with the
exceptional underpinnings of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra under the direction
of baroque specialist Harry Bicket, what can be missed?

Phillips_Eurydice.gifSusanna Phillips as Euridice

Set in a classical-style theater proscenium, the backdrop directly alludes
to Orpheus as the symbol of music, performance and art. Eurydice’s
funeral in Act I reveals the remains of the same theater, though decaying,
casting a darkened shadow on Orpheus’ future creative life without his
beloved. As Orpheus prepares to enter the gates of Hades to retrieve Eurydice
in Act II, he climbs into the backstage of the theater, where eerie stagehands
haul decrepit set pieces from the wings and fierce Furies lurk behind the door.
The Elysian Fields appear within the theater’s depths, casting bright
light on souls descending into the afterlife from red cords dropping from the
canopy. Orpheus and Eurydice travel from Hades to the land of the living,
returning to the decrepit backstage. Only after Amore restores Eurydice’s
life in Act III does the theater return to its original luster.

Under the direction of Arthur Pita, members of the Zenon Dance Company were
a fantastic addition to this production. Implementing elements of modern dance
throughout the longer orchestral interludes, the choreography perfectly
reflected the musical topos. The choice of modern dance to complement
the Classical music was a natural choice, considering Classical composers and
performers of the time of Gluck were focused on recreating ancient Greek
performance. Modern movement allowed the dancers to display the perfect
proportions of the human form through raw and engaging movement without
artifice. Pita’s use of dancers as the furies of Hades was a bold choice,
considering this is the stormiest orchestral music of the opera. Barbarically
clad monsters, tied to red cords leapt at Orpheus as he tries to enter the
gates of Hades. The strong orchestral rhythms allowed the dancers to move with
athleticism and virility, and were quite frightening to the audience! As the
drama moves to the setting of the Elysian Fields, Pita makes more strong
choices involving movement and dance. Dead souls slowly drop from the canopy,
amplifying the languid transition from death to life. Once descended, the souls
lose their human identity when they are forced to wear the mask of comedy.
Pita’s choreography of one man’s soul losing his identity was some
of the most raw yet fluid dancing of the evening.

1142.gifDavid Daniels as Orfeo, Susanna Phillips as Euridice and Company in The Minnesota Opera

Counter-tenor David Daniels shined throughout the opera. Considering Orpheus
is onstage from Act I to the end, Daniels commanded every moment in the
performance. Throughout recitatives and ensemble sections, he communicated with
an intense musical and theatrical focus both with his fellow performers and the
audience. Daniel’s “Che faro senza Euridice” was the
evening’s piËce de resistance. Daniel’s middle and upper
registers had such power, easily cutting over the orchestra yet maintaining a
beautiful lyricism, and the yearning lines of this aria truly pulled
heartstrings. Certainly Amore wasn’t the only one moved by this masterful

Susanna Phillips as Eurydice was a fantastic surprise. The twenty-nine
year-old soprano has found much success since her 2005 Metropolitan Opera
National Council Auditions win. With a golden voice, full of warmth and
richness, she was able to beautifully maneuver through Gluck’s Baroque/
Classical style with finesse and ease. Considering she has much experience with
Mozart, singing Donna Anna, Donna Elvira, Pamina, and the Countess, she
executed refined tapered phrasing. Her breath agility was truly surprising
during her Act III duet with Orpheo, where the voices are in perfect harmony.
Shading her tone to complement Mr. Daniels was executed beautifully, both
voices swelled and tapered through the harmonies, revealing beautiful
simplicity in the straighter tones implemented. I hope Ms. Phillips continues
to perform in these earlier genres, possibly foraying into Rameau or Handel.

Mortellaro_Amore.gifAngela Mortellaro as Amore

Minnesota Opera’s Resident Artist, Angela Mortellaro, played a
spritely pants role as Amore, the god of love. Ingeniously clad in a blindfold
and blind cane, Mortellaro cleverly uses her props to mock Gluck’s
interlude orchestral music, imitating rhythms with her cane. Ms.
Mortellaro’s voice has a silvery, glistening quality, and her upper
register shot through the hall with ease. Much of her recitative lay in the
lower register, and was not quite as audible. However, due to maybe one or two
stands too many in the orchestra, an overpowering orchestra in some sections
seemed to be an issue for the other performers as well.

The Minnesota Opera Chorus was a bit disappointing in this production. There
was a large gap in performance intensity from the beginning with Mr. Daniels
juxtaposed with the chorus in the opening funeral scene. It seemed as though
the ensemble members were an energy drain onstage, with little to no commitment
to their individual character, as well as lacking diction and musical
intensity. With so many outstanding performers, the chorus could have used more
theatrical coaching and diction work to bolster the ensemble to the level of
the rest of the performance.

Sarah Luebke

image_description=David Daniels as Orfeo [Photo by Michael Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera]
product_title=Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orpheo ed Eurydice
product_by=Orfeo: David Daniels; Euridice, Orfeo’s wife: Susanna Phillips; Amore, god of Love: Angela Mortellaro. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra. Zenon Dance Company. Conductor: Harry Bicket. Stage Director: Lee Blakeley. Set and Costume Dseginer: Adrian Linford. Choreographer: Arthur Pita. Lighting Designer: Jenny Cane.
product_id=Above: David Daniels as Orfeo

All photos by Michael Daniel courtesy of Minnesota Opera