Monday, July 30, 2012

Orphée et Eurydice: The Baroque Stylings of…Robert Wilson? (or Blue Orpheus)

OK, I admit it. On first viewing, I pretty much hated this production. I got the DVD because 1.) I will listen to anything John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir do*; 2.) I really like Magdalena Kožená; and 3.) I absolutely love this opera!

It’s so blue!  And so static!  And Orphée is so strange looking – androgynous. And what’s with the hair, and that robe?  Ironically, the copy on the DVD case says, “…Wilson makes the most of the opera’s balletic possibilities…” But, the word “mesmerizing,” is also used, and I think that is the key to enjoying this performance (that, and patience.) 

“Park and bark,” may be one’s first impression, but there’s more to it than that. The singers are clearly engaged in the drama. The overall feeling watching this opera is one of peace, calm, and focus. The relative immobility on stage keeps me watching to see what is going to happen next. At first I wanted to see dancing during the ballet music. But any real ballet in this production would actually seem out of place.  Everyone is dressed in flow-y robes. The slowly changing pictures need to change slowly. Other than a few sudden or quick movements—reserved for Amour and a few outbursts from Orphée—the gentle flow of movement keeps the focus on the singers, who all handle the stylized movement well.

Interestingly, I gained some insight into this production from the M22 production of Mozart’s Apollo et Hyacinthus. That director started with classic conventions of Baroque opera, working with the cast on traditional poses and gestures that had specific meanings to the Baroque audience. Realizing that 21st Century audiences would not readily interpret the classic movements, he allowed the singers to create their own Baroque-like movements and poses to convey their emotions. “Aha,” I thought, “So that must be what R. Wilson is up to!” So this could be considered in many ways to be (neo)-traditional production.  
The singing on this DVD is wonderful. Even if you never watched it again, it would be worth having just to listen to.** Magdalena Kožená’s performance as Orphée is strong. Her vocal inflections and use of vibrato, and (just a bit of) tone-bending are very expressive. She shines in the coloratura aria that closes Act 1.*** My only wishes for her are: better hair, makeup, and costume, and more fullness in her low notes. Patricia Petibon sings Amour beautifully. Her perky character’s freedom of movement and flowing costume set her apart from the humans. Madeline Bender has a lovely voice that serves Eurydice's music well. Her voice both blends and contrasts nicely with Kožená’s. All three voices merge beautifully in the final trios.
In the finale, the chorus enters in Gluck-period dress, and multiple proscenium flats descend; they still move in a stylized manner. It’s strange, but also seems to say, “This is still baroque opera with many baroque conventions. Yes, we know it's very artificial, but it's what we meant to do."
But still, it's so blue!

Eurydice dies.

Eurydice lives!

*I swear if the Monteverdi Choir released a recording of ABBA songs, I would buy it right away. (Actually, I do have Anne Sofie von Otter’s ABBA collection!)
**Actually, JEG and the MC did make an audio recording, with ASvO as Orphée. I highly recommend that as well. 
***This bravura aria sounds like it wandered in from another opera. It was added for the first Paris performances and there is some speculation that Gluck did not write it.


  1. I'll have to keep an eye out for this. I'm a Kozena fan from way back, for one thing, and it sounds like they're using space and movement in this production in a really striking way. (And who doesn't like blue, right?)

  2. Thanks for your comment. Blue is awesome!

    I just noticed that I implied, but did not state that the Monteverdi Choir is wonderful as usual. I know they're professionals, and they do many works from memory (see the Mozart Requeim/Great Mass DVD) but for a concert-type choir to deal with the movement too? Wow, I am more impressed than ever!

    RE: Blue. Imagine waking up from a nap to find Patricia Petibon singing at you. Scary, huh? and scarier still when she is blue. This is how my friend first encountered this DVD; said friend is now completely unwilling to watch this EVER again!!

  3. I can understand where your friend is coming from - I like Petibon's singing, but I can definitely see the argument for Unexpected Blue Petibon being a little unnerving!

  4. "Gasp! What is it, Doctor?"

    "Well, I am afraid is a bad case of UBP. It's serious, but not usually fatal. Take two Ponnelle Figaros and call me in the morning."


Comments are very welcome! They won't be moderated; but rude, abusive, and/or radically off-topic posts will be removed.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...