How do they do it? The Joffrey Ballet has two simultaneous gigs in LA: the Gluck opera, “Orpheus and Eurydice,” and the ballet, “Romeo and Juliet.” The consensus is that the troop is spectacular in “Orpheus,” but their production of “Romeo” disappoints. But oh, do they delight in “Orpheus.”
In the familiar Greek myth and Gluck’s story line, Orpheus is a poet and musician. A rebel, he goes into the underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice who has died. The gods impose the condition that to rescue her, he not look back. In the end he is not able to resist the temptation. She cajoles and he glances back. In the operatic version of the story, in response to Orpheus’ grief, Amour grants Eurydice life once again. Gluck wrote this version for French audiences in 1774. He was a pioneer in writing roles where opera singers were expected to act as well as sing. One can argue that the acting part was rarely realized until late in the twentieth century. It is fully realized now on the Dorothy Chandler stage.
This production places the myth in modern times. Orpheus (Maxim Mironov) is the choreographer of a ballet troop. His new wife, Eurydice (Lisette Oropesa), is his prima ballerina. Amour (Liv Redpath) is Orpheus’ personal assistant. Orpheus and Eurydice have a fight, she slaps him, storms out, crashes her car and dies. Amour consoles and offers Orpheus a path to Eurydice’s’ retrieval. Of course, in the end he cannot resist Eurydice’s pleading and anger. He looks back, and you know what that gets him. Orpheus is wrapped in grief and Amour convinces him that Eurydice will live on his heart. It is the answer some of us give our grandchildren when they ask if we believe in heaven.
French audiences of that time demanded dance in their performances and Gluck complied. It is the perfect setup for a collaboration between a first rate opera company and a first rate ballet. The current presentation is a co-production of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the LAOpera, and Staatsoper Hamburg. Most importantly, John Neumeier, director and chief choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet, has choreographed, designed, and directed this production. He has also designed the costumes and the lighting. It is a tour de force, a very successful presentation of an old opera as a modern story.
Gluck’s score is beautiful, if not particularly memorable. Interestingly this is the first time James Conlon has conducted a ballet. You would never guess that. The LAOpera orchestra is wonderful under his baton.The chorus is heard, but tucked into the orchestra pit. Orpheus, Eurydice, and Amour are the only singers on stage. One’s focus is on the dancers.
“Orpheus and Eurydice” is as much a ballet as it is an opera. Although the dancers are on point, and the movements are based on classical style, the overall feeling is contemporary. Sets are stark and modern. Their costumes have clean, but imaginative, lines. Most stunning are the Furies who are androgynously draped with snakes wrapped around their heads. It is all danced with precision and grace. Mironov has the look of a dancer turned choreographer; Oropesa moves easily with the dancers, and Redpath has the spring of a cupid.
Opera is most satisfying when it is a complete entertainment. This production lives up to that promise. Even after two hours and 30 minutes I could have happily sat for more.