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This review by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the July 18, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Opera Review: `Orfeo ed Euridice’
A satisfying wholeness pervades director Karen Tiller’s
production of Gluck’s "Orfeo ed Euridice," Opera Festival
of New Jersey’s third offering of the season, which opened at McCarter
Theater on Saturday, July 7. An opera director before assuming the
position of OFNJ general director, Tiller has been cultivating a
involvement with its productions and last season directed Frank
modern work, "Burning Bright."
In this strongly focused production of "Orfeo," Tiller cuts
across boundaries between music and movement. Members of the chorus
not only sing, but include choreographed movement in their stage
A dance ensemble mingles comfortably on stage with the chorus.
singers also engage with the dancers, moving in their midst.
What is seen and what is heard are intimately intertwined. Euridice’s
glass coffin, visible initially on an open-curtained stage, is hidden
from view as the audience listens to the overture in darkness.
by David Agler, the instrumental introduction unfolds briskly and
lightly, a prelude to the propulsion that this orchestra provides
throughout the piece. Gradually, from the darkness, comes the somber
sight of variegated gray umbrellas shielding a host of black-clothed
mourners; from these mourning couples, the grief-stricken Orfeo
The visual punch of Kris Stone’s contemporary scenic design, of April
Soroko’s costumes, and of F. Mitchell Dana’s lighting emphasize the
lean story line. The palette is essentially black and white, with
accents of brilliant color. Simplicity of design underscores the
plot and relatively undecorated score.
Orfeo (Margaret Lattimore) grieves inconsolably at the death of his
beautiful bride, Euridice (Christine Brandes). Amor (Kristen Plumley),
Goddess of Love, informs him that he may bring Euridice back from
Hades, provided he does not look at her and does not explain why he
averts his gaze. Having charmed his way into Hades by his
Orfeo finds Euridice and begins their return journey to earth,
to avoid looking at her. Eventually, tormented by Euridice’s pleading,
Orfeo embraces her and she dies. The despairing Orfeo plans to kill
himself in order to rejoin Euridice in the underworld, yet Amor
him, and the loving couple is permitted to return to earth.
Essential to realizing Gluck’s opera successfully is an Orfeo with
the stamina to participate fully for the entire span of the piece.
Orfeo is an almost constant presence. At the 1762 premiere the role
was played by the renowned contralto castrato Gaetano Guadagni. Since
then it has been recast for various celebrated voices, male and
OFNJ’s Orfeo, mezzo-soprano Margaret Lattimore, showed both the
to meet the technical demands of the role and the additional artistic
and dramatic range to make her performance memorable. The expressive
qualities of her voice are extraordinary. With a considerable margin
of comfort, she dispensed a variety of emotions — grief, love,
and determination; yearning and frustration; despair, sorrow, and
remorse. Her crowning aria, "Che faro senza Euridice," moved
the audience to interrupt the action by its applause.
In possession of a virtuoso array of acting skills,
Lattimore subtly applied nuanced body language to this trouser role.
Her gait and manner of standing motionless were non-feminine enough
that one was not distracted by the thought that this was a woman
a man’s role. Indeed, so consistent was Lattimore at thinking herself
Orfeo, that she maintained the illusion even in the curtain calls,
handing over her bouquet to Christine Brandes, her Euridice, during
the audience’s acclaim.
Brandes was a nubile Euridice, shapely, and garbed in a long white
wedding dress, which I found singularly appropriate. Neither she nor
Kristen Plumley (Amor), both of whose roles are less demanding than
Lattimore’s, displayed Lattimore’s vast musical and technical
By comparison, their voices were somewhat harsh and their movement
Yet the overall thrust of the production is consistent enough to
a viewer to make allowances. Take Amor’s appearance, for instance.
Initially, Amor wears a magenta dress, black pumps, and eyeglasses.
She seems to be a corporate type about to break through the glass
ceiling. In her second appearance, she wears a long, sequined
gown and a hot-pink veil. Suddenly, she is a debutante. One needs
to remind oneself that the gods can be capricious.
Orfeo’s clothing, a tuxedo, also takes some getting used to. Formal
wear may not be the best choice for a funeral. However, his
look is consistent with the production’s dramatic vision.
In this staging, we cannot be sure whether Hades lies above the earth
or below it. The confusion comes from visually arresting ladders that
link the two realms. The ladder that descends from the flies as Orfeo
is about to begin his quest for Euridice in Hades gives the visual
clue that the way to the underworld, surprisingly, is up, not down.
Having arrived at the underworld, Orfeo sits near the top of a ladder.
Otherwise, Hades is in its usual place.
Early music specialist David Agler has opted here to include long
passages of incidental music often excised from the score. Simple
and effective dances, choreographed by Mary Pat Robertson and
by a professional ensemble of six, seamlessly and imaginatively
these music passages into the vocal drama.
Gluck’s "Orfeo ed Euridice" stands as one of opera’s early
gems. A reformer of the Baroque musical stage, Gluck attempted to
correct the excesses of the opera scene as he knew it. He preferred
stressing plot rather than merely providing singers with an
to display their vocal muscle. And his return to simplicity was
More than two centuries after "Orfeo" was premiered, it no
longer shocks. However, its elegance still communicates.
— Elaine Strauss
McCarter Theater, University Place, 609-258-2787. $22 to $82.
July 20, 8 p.m., & Sunday, July 29, at 2 p.m.
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