#76 L’orfeo

After a long year teaching, it is Portland I come to heal my spirit. A slight disappointment travelled with me this year though because Portland Opera has switched to a fall/spring schedule, but two things got me feeling better. First, I get to visit my opera loving cousins here and two while watching a morning program on TV we received some amazing news.

Opera is back for the summer with a new name and reprised vision from beloved and long time producer Christopher Mattaliano (the guy in the jacket who greeted us before the Portland Operas). His new company is named Orpheus PDX whose goal is to bring high quality chamber opera to the Portland area.

There is exciting potential with this new vision if you can appreciate that bigger isn’t always better. The difference between the Sistine Chapel and the Mona Lisa are differences of scale, but not quality. They just provide the opportunity for different kinds of experience, one sublime and one intimate. The grandeur of Mahler’s Symphony of a thousand and the lone voice of Renee Fleming both brought tears to my eyes. The scale of a production isn’t always proportionate to the size of the emotion it evokes. Limits of material and funding can force decisions of scale and style that frame the audiences experience in unexpected and delightful ways. My point I guess is that the smaller scale isn’t one for concern but one for celebration and L’orfeo is perfect for Orpheus PDX’s first production because it takes us back to the very beginning of opera. What a perfect start to begin a new journey together.

The first ‘choice’ in production I notice is a fluorescent flourish of script above the wedding party that gleams “Till Death Do Us Part”* It is a clever device by set designer Megan Wilkerson that will change throughout the opera to foreshadow upcoming events.

When the violins lower during Euridice’s parting from the mortal coil (a word painting device of Monteverdi), the only words remaining lit are, “_____ Death ___ ___ Part.” When the two lovers are reunited in hell the sign reads, “_____ _____ __ Us ____”. Finally when Orfeo with an emotional glance loses her forever, it reads “De-part.”

The blocking choices really pulled me in, like when the wedding party with each camera flash froze in a vogue-pose, and when Orfeo and Eurydice move in slow motion I am devastated by the very human mistake.

L’Orfeo has been at the top of my list of operas to see for a long time because it is recognized as the very first true opera. This production was a very important piece of my opera journey. To look back through the lens of 75 operas to see the germ of where they all began.

The orchestra sounded great, but one instrument in particular stole the show.

The Theorbo, played by Hideki Yamaya

Chaltin encouraged us to stay at the end of the evening for a Q/A which I’m glad we did. It’s charming how Portlanders love and identify with their city and it was funny that many questions from the audience came back to, “So tell us again as performers, what do you think is great about Portland.” Between the reassuracences that Portland is an abundantly verdant city with kind people and amazing food trucks Hannah Penn, Conor McDondald, and Christian Capocaccia offered a lot of insight about the opera:

Music before Monteverdi’s time was largely religious in content and homophonic (one melody at a time.) Monteverdi is composing during a time of transition between madrigals that are secular in content, introduce instrumentation, and make use of polyphony (more than one melody at a time). Madrigals also include word painting where the tone matches the content of the lyrics (sad words are sung sad), and the score goes through without repeating as the narrative changes. Wagner’s opera die meistersinger which I saw recently tells the story of the adoption and acceptance of these changes in music.

Monteverdi is also writing at the beginning of the baroque era which I would describe as fuller and more complex, you can hear the composers having fun and beginning to think about the form for it’s own sake and not just background for the content.

I hope that Portland catches on to Orpheus PDX and turns out to hear Phillip Glass’ Fall of the house of Usher. https://orpheuspdx.org/

Thank you Christopher Mattaliano and players.

*Till death do us part comes from the book of common prayer written in 1549 after Henry the VIII formed the Church of England.

So What’s L’Orfeo All About?

Orpheus loses his love Euridice to a snakebite on her wedding day. Equipped with only his lyre he ventures into hades to bring her back.

Christopher Mattaliano

Notes on the Production:

Conductor………………… Christian Capocaccia

Orfeo…………………………. Conor McDonald
Euridice……………………… Holly Flack
Messagiera &Speranza… Hannah Penn
Ninfa & Proserpina……… Abigail Renee Krawson
Apollo………………………… Steven Brennfleck
Plutone………………………. Zachary Lenox
Caronte………………………. Dead Guidi


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