“Euridice” by Giulio Caccini was printed in 1600, as the first publication of an opera score. This signified the birth of opera and forever established the ground-breaking genre that we still admire today. Causing a stir at the start, Caccini is said to have been in direct competition for the publication of this score with another regarded composer of the time, Jacopo Peri, who lost the challenge by failing to print his version ahead of Caccini’s by only two weeks time. While the royals regarded Peri as the more popular between the two, Caccini still reigns as the first operatic composer and despite opinions around who he was as a person, Caccini has proven to deliver a forever impactful marriage between the Greek mythology based story of “Euridice” and music.
Imagine a stark white room, minimal lighting, and seating on opposite sides of this room, that encouraged the audience to look at each other, while listening to a baroque quartet in one corner. This initial experience of the evening set the tone for what would unfold as a heart-wrenching self-reflecting performance of a striking composition. Portrayed beautifully by the Cantanti Project under the direction of Brittany Goodwin at the Alchemical Studios February 23rd through the 25th, one cannot forget the underlying impact that this opera had when first debuted in 1600 all the way to modern day. Dramaturg, Lydia Dahling, said it best, when telling how “the story of Orpheus and his journey to the Underworld to revive his wife, Euridice, has captured our attention and imagination since ancient times. It makes us question how far we would go for those we love and allows us to examine love’s power against the forces that would hinder it.”
Given this insight for the journey ahead, makes a first time listener of the opera curious about all that will and will not transpire when seeing it firsthand. For example, it is easy to make connections to previously heard melodies, stage settings, vocal expectations, and the all-familiar arias of the later operatic works, but, given that this was the first opera ever made it a challenge to allow one’s perspective to be free from expectation and instead focused on digesting what was happening in the present moment, which was constructed in a very distant past.
A Deep Experience of Equals
Faced with the task of bringing this opera back to life, Goodwin, the Cantanti Project and Dorian Baroque quartet proved to deliver an extraordinary experience. Together they allowed the libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini and Caccini’s music to express every necessary emotion. As a listener, appreciator and all-around opera lover, one was very moved by what the team showcased. Although it was not a fully staged production that sought to dazzle both the eye and the ears, “Euridice” would not have been experienced the way in which Caccini intended. This performance really made the audience re-think what opera is at its core. This being said, Goodwin ensured that all 12 or so members of the Cantanti Project, were given equal participation onstage. No single role was more important than another. The performers supported each role by actively taking involvement emotionally and physically to every single note and text. Tremendous vocal discipline, awareness of each other’s parts and personal connection with the music, as a performer, reigned. Yes, there were no arias, but if you can imagine an opera without a necessary designated solo moment for the entire performance, you might find it hard to believe that a story was even told. Operatically speaking. Therefore, each audience member could not help but be transformed by the intimacy that was required to participate as both the listener and performer, in order to understand what Caccini and the group sought to convey.
Joyce Yin, the Artistic Director, made an impact when at the start she said that “the process of putting this project together has been particularly meaningful to our cast as we peeled back the layers of mythology and connected with the humanity of this story. Although we might not be able to tap into the power of music in quite the same way Orfeo does, we know music can transport us to a different time and a different place, change us, heal us, and enrich our lives.” She also described in her program notes how deeply spiritual the cast had to prepare themselves even for the first rehearsal together. They acted as a unified team from the start, while fully diving into the material and figuring out how to best deliver Caccini’s work, as a whole. Yin also described how she “found it extraordinarily beautiful that one of the most enduring myths places music at its center.”
Creating the intimate mystic and surreal emotional drama behind Caccini’s L’Euridice was the Dorian Baroque quartet. John Mark Rozendaal, who played the viola da gamba, visited with me after the performance about his instrument and told me the history behind how he found it and how it differs from the cello. Listening to Mark’s knowledge and seeing him while playing the instrument, further enlightened me and enhanced the all-around experience of the evening. I will never forget how he said that when acquiring his instrument in the 1970’s from a collector, it was undervalued by most buyers. How unfortunate for those that did not see it’s unique and exquisite details then. I also had the joy of visiting with Dylan Sauerwald, the conductor, who played the harpsichord for the performance. He informed me that together, the four musicians had a limited time to rehearse before production, but what made it easy for each of them to dive in as a small ensemble in time, was due to each individual musician being comfortable with accompanying singers. Instead of taking turns playing solos, the musicians played in order to simply guide the singers and allow for the full breathe of each emotion to be felt by the listeners. Christa Patton on the harp and Paul Holmes Morton with the theorbo, enriched the overall sound and also expressed passion when playing their instruments. It was obvious how each musician’s elevated level of professionalism and expertise in their craft created for a remarkable music experience.
In conclusion, Caccini’s “Euridice,” performed in modern-day, forced the audience to let go of the expectations that are tied to the “what has been,” and instead, required us as listeners, to hone in on the “what is now,” in the present moment. Recitative is the main focus of Caccini’s opera and he intended on this because of its importance when delivering a story. The lack of over-the-top embellished arias in this opera, may have made for a boring listening experience to some. However, for those that sought a deeper meaning in order to best understand that which the composer sought to express in every word, in every note and in every relation to this story, one could find a direct correlation to their own life experiences; and this is why the audience was so deeply moved.
How Greek mythology still impacts our hearts and minds is the real fascination that Caccini captures and so eloquently displays in “Eurdice.” As Dylan Sauerwald best said, “’Euridice’ is a deep well. It feels so remote, and yet so fresh. It begs us to re-examine what opera is, and what it could be.”