Met wraps season with a stylish and elegant “Orfeo ed Euridice”

Fri May 17, 2024 at 1:23 pm
Anthony Roth Costanzo stars in Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice at the Metropolitan Opera. Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Revivals of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice are always highlights of any Metropolitan Opera season. Not only is the score invariably refreshing and invigorating, but the Mark Morris production—which debuted in 2007—is one of the most elegant and intelligent stagings in the Met’s repertoire. As the last production on this season’s schedule, Orfeo returned Thursday for a wonderful night at the opera. 

More than just a revival, this run features countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo as Orfeo, only the second man (after David Daniels) to sing this role at the Met. He was joined on stage by soprano Elena Villalòn in her Met debut as Amore, and soprano Ying Fang as Euridice. (Conductor Christian Curnyn was scheduled to also debut with this production, but was felled by illness and replaced by J. David Jackson.)

Orefeo is close to a one-man show. The title character has almost all the solo music, with brief appearances from Amore at the beginning and climax of the story; Euridice’s appearance is confined to the third act. 

Orfeo has to carry the opera, and Costanzo did so with great stage presence and musical intelligence. His singing was full of characterful details, using subtle shifts in timbre to get at the emotional heart of each bar of music. He had a steely tone set agains the chorus in “Ah se intorno a quest’urna funesta,” then the loss of “Chiamo il mio ben cosi” mixed warmth with a kind of boy-soprano naiveté, like immaturity grappling with the unimaginable. “Che farò sense Euridice” was marvelous. Overall, this was the kind of performance that delivered the story clearly, one imagined that few needed to refer to the seat-back translations to know what Orfeo was saying.

The staging gave Villalòn’s Amore a spectacular entrance as she descended from the rafters. The soprano has terrific personal charisma and a shining, youthful quality in her voice. There’s a respectful cheekiness to Morris’ aesthetic, a fine balance of appreciation for the beauty and expression of the score along with the awareness that it’s entertainment (but in no way frivolous in presentation). Clad in khakis and with tiny wings attached to her shirt, Villalòn had the perfect presence and vocal weight for this production.

Ying Fang and Anthony Roth Costanzo in the Met’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

As did Fang whose singing was gorgeous.. The soprano proved as shining as Villalòn but with a different texture, a little weightier. As Euridice and Orfeo negotiate their exit from the underworld, her more stately sense of time was an excellent foil for Costanzo’s urgency, making the crucial and tragic result logical and believable. Her “Che fiero momento,” which is often sung with a sense of fire, had a strong and effective feeling of confusion and heartache. The production flows as a single unified performance, with a focused, tidy duration of a little more than 90 minutes. 

Morris has deep musical literacy. Orfeo is full of dance music, the ballets are as essential to the narrative as is the main character’s singing. Every movement in the choreography has something to say about not just the rhythms of the music, but the phrases and the direction of the form. Gluck’s underworld is Elysium, not Hades, and the dancing as Orfeo enters it is even more pastoral and convivial than the music. The chorus, which sang with a rich, soft, and elegant sound all night, is dressed as figures from the past, like Abraham Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth I, and Mae West, the dead both observing and commenting on the action and populating Elysium. It is their presence that creates every context.

Jackson is a Met musician, preparing the singers and conducting some productions, and led the orchestra with an accompanist’s sensibility. Some accents and articulations might be sharper under a different baton, but the phrasing was mellifluous and the pacing was ideal. Orfeo may not be the biggest headliner of the Met’s season, but this production is one of the most satisfying, enjoyable, and musical of the year.

Orfeo runs through June 8.

Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

One Response to “Met wraps season with a stylish and elegant “Orfeo ed Euridice””

  1. Posted May 20, 2024 at 9:08 am by JohnEory

    As Met subscribers my wife and I have attended many wonderful performances but I have to say that this production was simply outstanding on numerous levels. An unexpected highlight of the season and great way to wrap it up.

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