Sunday, May 22, 2011

Orfeo ed Euridice at the COC

     I attended the Dress Rehearsal of Orfeo ed Euridice as a guest of the COC. I've since read two glowing reviews of performances (in The Star and The Spec) and would like to take this opportunity to respond to their opinions of Robert Carsen's concept and production.
     I will not say anything about the solo singing as I attended a rehearsal. Singers are free to "mark" during rehearsals. They may choose not to sing out, to spontaneously transpose passages or even omit singing bits, all in order to save their voice.
     All three acts were played on the same barren moonscape. There is a grave which opened and closed. A ramp leads from in front of the plain scrim to the raked stage. Otherwise, there is no scenery. Singers are dressed in "modern" garb, all in black (white shirts for the men). The dead in Hades are in white shrouds. All visual variety was a result of the movement of the singers on the stage and lighting effects. Singers were often back-lit making it difficult to see their facial expressions.
     The idea is that Gluck, the composer, had simplified the style of the opera in reaction to the excesses of opera at the time. Carlsen has simplified the visual presentation in response to Gluck's music. The problem is that it's all contextual. Modern opera goers have not been immersed in the extremes of Rococo stage presentations so the raison d'etre for all of this must be explained to them in notes for it to have any meaning. It's like some serial music which, its advocates might explain, doesn't sound like much but is really interesting when you analyze the score.
     Orpheus sings to the dead in Hades and they are persuaded to transport him to Elysium. Elysium is supposed to be a delightful place, and Orpheus describes it as such. In this production, Hades and Elysium look exactly the same. Without an understanding of the concept this is counter-intuitive, and even then, I think it shortchanges the audience.
     The result is, from a visual point of view, a rather dull night at the opera.
     Next season the COC presents Iphegenia in Tauris, also by Gluck, with Susan Graham in the title role. Carlsen directs again. I wonder whether this production will be more visually interesting than was Orfeo.

1 comment:

  1. A modern minimalist esthetic works sometimes very well to clarify the meaning of an opera, even an ancient one. The Carsen Orfeo did not achieve this. The emotional story-telling was left entirely to the singers' acting; even that was hampered by the static staging. The set was so dreary as to make one yearn for the "opera in concert" format.I love stripped-down avant-garde concepts, but only when they enhance the understanding of the plot and the characters' motivation.