Classical review: Pacific MusicWorks/UW Music’s coproduction of Gluck’s opera “Orphée et Eurydice” was a musical and visual delight at Meany Theater this past weekend.
The myth of Orpheus, who pursues his beloved Eurydice into the afterlife, is as old as time.
And last weekend’s Pacific MusicWorks production of Gluck’s opera based on that story — “Orphée et Eurydice” — is as new as fresh paint.
Presented in conjunction with the University of Washington School of Music, this “Orphée” is an imaginative amalgamation of period authenticity and contemporary innovation. Melding those two is the gold standard of opera today, when most enlightened producers strive to bring fresh new perspectives to historical works. The goal was harmoniously achieved at Meany Theater this past weekend.
Gluck’s 1774 “Paris version” score, rich with tuneful arias and orchestral interludes, came to life in the hands of conductor Stephen Stubbs, who gave a warm, well-paced, and surprisingly zippy account of the music. Missteps were very few in his orchestra, in which student musicians played side by side with the professionals of Stubbs’ Pacific MusicWorks production ensemble. Stubbs did a great job of balancing the sound levels between the stage and the orchestra pit; the orchestra supported but never overwhelmed the singers.
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Stubbs, a senior artist in residence at the UW who also is the Grammy-winning artistic co-director of the Boston Early Music Festival, invited several of his Festival colleagues (among them stage director Gilbert Blin and tenor Aaron Sheehan) to create this “Orphée.” It’s an opera that can seem static because there’s relatively little dramatic action — but in the hands of director Blin, this show was a consistent visual delight.
Creative and beautiful projections (designed by Travis Mouffe) filled the back wall of the stage with arresting images that underscored the action. There were not only projected English translations, but also lines of French text from the libretto, which rolled onto the screen in ever-changing streams of color — breaking apart and re-forming in various shapes as the singers sang. Rémy-Michel Trotier was the texts and supertitles designer. The action was further highlighted by Peter Bracilano’s subtle lighting design.
The opera has only three principal roles, and Orphée carries the majority of the show with a highflying, taxing series of virtuoso arias. Aaron Sheehan was born to sing this music. Lyrical, artful and incredibly agile, he soared through this challenging score. Valerie Vinzant was an expressive, vibrant Amour; Amanda Forsythe combined an attractive tone quality with nimble vocal flexibility as Eurydice.
Blin used the chorus and an excellent sextet of dancers to brilliantly dramatic effect, with writhing furies and stately “blessed spirits” that always supported and enhanced the music. Anna Mansbridge’s choreography was effective and beautiful. The understated costumes, by Anna Watkins, were unisex tunics and pants that reappeared in vibrant hues for the last scene — a clever touch.