Metropolitan Opera 2019-20 Review: Orfeo ed Euridice

Jamie Barton, Hera Hyesang Park & Hei-Kyung Hong Shine Bright In Mark Morris’ Complex Production

By Logan Martell
(Photo Credit: Ken Howard / Met Opera)

On October 20, 2019, the Metropolitan Opera premiered this season’s production of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.” Mark Morris’ production gave the classic work a staging that, while at times veering towards the abstract, remained consistent to its artistic vision and true to its source material.

One detail, downplayed but very present, were the figures in the chorus. Looming over the stage like spectators in an arena, and comprised of people from all eras and dressed in a variety of costumes which visually reaffirmed the timelessness of the story. Their tiered arrangement also evoked a sense of public spectacle for those watching the drama of Orfeo’s life unfold.

In Act three, we see the underside of the staging as the set revolves to reveal the subterranean passage between worlds in the form of a dark, winding cavern. This simple yet beautiful abyss set the stage for some of the opera’s most dramatically-charged numbers, as the lovers climb, falter, and exchange places without yet meeting eye-to-eye. While mostly black, the parts of the set hit by light drew forth a subtle glimmer suggestive of the earthly riches held within the rock. It was interesting how, while Hades and Earth were given the same look by sharing one half of the set, the other side was devoted to the transitional space between them.

(Credit: Ken Howard / Met Opera)

Three Stars Shine

In the role of Orpheus, Jamie Barton displayed a captivating balance of bravery and vulnerability. Her iteration of the mythic hero, clad in an all-black suit and strapped with a guitar, seemed to blend Johnny Cash’s tough veneer with Roy Orbison’s utter sensitivity, this latter trait finely achieved through Barton’s highly touching vocality.

Her Act one aria, “Chiamo il mio ben,” flowed with a measured languishing from Barton, smoothly transitioning between the verses and their preceding recitatives while carrying their grieved sentiment. When faced the with furies of Act two, Barton’s Orfeo appeared far from helpless, despite the pleading nature of her lines as she tried to stir their hearts.

This defiance was only slowed by the splendor of Elysium in the following scene, where Barton’s awed, observational phrases and dramatic sensibility gave the only hint of its beauty, thanks to the minimalist nature of the set. After losing Euridice once again in Act three, Barton’s scornful, biting lines made a strong transition to her aria “Che faro senza Euridice?” Here the descending phrases were treated with a lush despair that captured Orfeo’s feelings of hopelessness, with the seamless return of the A section feeling as if Barton could grieve in this way endlessly. Barton brought this aria to a firm, crushed finish, drawing tremendous applause.



While not appearing until the second scene of Act two, Hei-Kyung Hong quickly endeared as Euridice. Her initially spellbound reactions to the surrounding events soon gave way to longing as she pleaded for Orfeo’s gaze with great affection. Their duet, “Vieni, appaga il tuo consorte,” was full of sonorous, conflicted beauty as the two visibly ached for one another. After finally bringing Orfeo to the point where he looks at her, Hong’s Euridice is carried back to Hades by members of the ensemble.

When Amore takes pity and returns her to Orfeo, Hong is brought back to the stage the exact same way she left. While this drew some laughs, the message was crystal clear: the gods give just as easily as they take away.

As Amore, Hera Hyesang Park brought a whimsical flair to the character, along with a good deal of humor. Descending to answer the call of Orfeo’s broken heart, her heavenly silhouette was quickly undercut as the lights revealed her outfit as a simple pink polo shirt and khaki pants.

Her levity was especially seen in how she casually rested an arm on Orfeo as she explained the conditions for Euridice’s return. Her aria, “Gli sguardi trattieni,” revealed a clear and warm soprano that one could expect from a personification of love. The chipper demeanor returned when Amore appeared before the suicidal Orfeo, her chiding reaction seemed to trivialize his despair as she hopped down the dark passageway.

(Credit: Ken Howard / Met Opera)

Dancing The Night Away

The dance numbers of the opera, choreographed by Morris, did much to enliven the stage in lieu of the minimal set. The recurring grasping gesture used by the dancers in Act one towards Euridice’s funerary urn framed it physically, as well as emotionally, as the center of everyone’s sorrow; this idea is reinforced when the dancers exit, only for them be simultaneously pulled a step back towards the urn, as if unable to resist its tragic power.

In Act two scene one, the seemingly lost souls staggered about in a disheveled line. With their bearing as the only indication of their state, their modern clothing conjured up the sense of Hades being located within a Gap store. While the furies make no dedicated effort to actually stop Orfeo, their harsh accusatory pointing towards the hero can be connected to the singular fixation seen with Euridice’s urn in Act one; their focus only drawn away by the fearsome grinding of the Cerberus motif, as they thrust and flailed their arms skywards.

Through the 90 minutes of nearly uninterrupted musical drama, conductor Mark Wigglesworth and orchestra delivered a spirited and cohesive telling of Gluck’s mythological work. While only a cast of three strong, Barton, Hong, and Park brought an abundance of personality to their parts, driving much of the ensuing drama. This modern take on a timeless tale made for a powerful concentration of opera.


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