Theater Review: “Orphée”
Philip Glass’ “Orphée,” an opera written by Glass in 1991 and using the script from the 1949 Jean Cocteau film by the same name, was performed by the Richmond Opera and the Virginia Symphony, conducted by Steven Jarvi, at the Carpenter Theatre on Feb. 17. The show was performed in French with English subtitles displayed above the stage.
The devastatingly handsome Matthew Worth, a University of Richmond alum, takes the lead as Orphée and Eurydice, Orphée’s wife, is played by Sara Jakubiak. The story line is loosely based on the Greek myth of Orpheus who travels to the underworld to retrieve his wife after her unexpected death and bring her back to the world of the living.
In the Cocteau version, Eurydice and Orphée’s marriage has become troubled and Orphée has become distant and tempted away from Eurydice by the sexy Princess, played by talented soprano, Heather Buck. Eurydice is in turn pursued by the Princess’s chauffer, Heurtebise, played by tenor, Jeffrey Lentz. The Princess takes the life of Eurydice so she can have Orphée all to herself, when the higher ups in the underworld find out what she has done they agree to let Eurydice go back to the upper world.
The condition in the myth is that Orpheus cannot look at his wife until they reach the surface. In this interpretation, this is still a condition for Orphée but he and Eurydice actually return to living together and Eurydice must constantly avoid what could be a deadly glance from her husband. This inevitably happens and Eurydice dies once again. The Princess is eventually punished for meddling with mortal lives and Orphée and Eurydice return to their normal lives with no memory of their time spent on the other side.
Sam Helfrich directs this modern interpretation and has directed it before for New York’s Glimmerglass Opera. Helfrich uses doubles for the cast to create a mirror like effect and to highlight the separation of the spirit world, right in front of the audience’s eyes. When the doubles for the Princess and Cégeste, a young poet whose life the Princess has just taken, played by Jonathan Blalock, appear on stage and mirror their counterparts it is hard to tell what has just transpired. It was a truly amazing to watch.
The principal cast is supremely talented. The vocals were clear and beautiful and the acoustics of the Carpenter Theatre are perfect for opera. Glass’ music is known for being minimalist and this is definitely true in “Orphée,” but because of this, the singing becomes the main highlight and focus.
The set and costumes are the same from the 2007 production and could have used an update as it was hard to tell in what decade the show was taking place. The opera has been set in the 1950s in past productions to coincide with the film and this feels more appropriate than trying to make it fit into the 21st century. For example, the Princess’s henchmen are solemn motorcycle gear-clad gentlemen whose costumes too closely resembled a Power Ranger to be taken seriously. Another problem is that one of the henchmen was so much shorter than the other that it was hard to be intimidated by them. The set was too minimalist and didn’t really reflect the taste of the characters.
“Orphée” is playing on Feb. 19 again at the Carpenter Theatre at 2:30 p.m.
Jen Maciulewicz is theatre critic for GAYRVA.com and is a Richmond local. Jen attended VCU and holds a B.S. in Anthropology. She has starred as Reno Sweeney in Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes" and attended VCU’s School of Music. Follow Jen on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jenlaumac.
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