Orfeo ed Euridice, live cinema screening from the Metropolitan Opera in New York, Jan 2009

The best thing about this performance was the beautiful singing of Stephanie Blythe as Orfeo, and the conducting of Gluck’s wonderful music by James Levine. Danielle de Niese sang well as a glamorous Euridice, and Heidi Grant Murphy sang Amor, but with strangely awkward arm movements that carried no meaning. In fact meaning was in short supply in this strange production by choreographer Mark Morris. The costumes by Isaac Mizrahi covered Orfeo in black, with Euridice in a white wedding dress, and Amor in a frumpy costume with tiny wings that made her look like a camp and badly dressed guest at a fancy dress party, hauled up and down on wires from the rafters. There were dancers cavorting around the stage, doing little to express the pathos of the opera, but whatever Mark Morris was thinking about in creating this nonsense, he came over well in interview in his dark trousers and jumper, set off by a gloriously large pink scarf, introducing himself as an opera queen. The only part of the choreography I liked was at the end when various couples came together to express joy, but this was spoiled by camera work that was too clever by half, switching from one couple to another and failing to let us see the whole stage except in snatches.

The sets by Allan Moyer placed the chorus, absurdly dressed as figures from history, including the future, in a three-tier amphitheatre. It looked very imposing, but what was the point? If you kept your eyes closed, as other people I know did, then you could concentrate on the magnificent singing of Stephanie Blythe, ably supported by James Levine and the orchestra. I do not wish to treat this simply as an opera seria, which Gluck was trying to get away from, despite the typical use of Amor as a deus ex machina to bring about a happy ending, but in the absence of a great singing actor in the part of Orfeo, that is essentially what it is. Replacing the lack of acting ability in the main performer by incoherent staging and disorderly dancing doesn’t work.

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