The Norfolk Chamber Music Festival (my current and, as it turns out thanks to the good news from Darmstadt, very temporay employer) kicked off the summer with a production by the Yale Baroque Opera Project guessed it...L'Orfeo. I think this production could not have been further from what Majel reported went on in Norway, as I think that THIS L'Orfeo was supposed to be in the vein of "historical performance"...judging, that is, by the togas:

(Casey Breves, here, as Orpheus. In the evening performance Birger Radde turned in a very mature, dramatically compelling, and spotlessly enlightened performance...which is to say nothing of his live re-enactment of Schubert's Erlkonig at the afterparty.)

Then there was the ubiquitous harpsichord, the choir of sakbuts and the not ONE but TWO theorbos.

What's a theorbo, you ask? Why here's one now:

(In case the image is too dark, it's basically a giant lute with a 5-foot long fret board)

The production was directed by former Yale-ster, Ethan Heard, and the orchestra was directed olde-timey style by lead fiddle, Robert Mealy. But I don't really want to talk about the production*. It mostly looked like this:

(It didn't really glow red, that's just a byproduct of shooting with a slow shutter speed. The orchestra was below the stage, the continuo was onstage in front of what looked like a wall removed from the dining hall of an Ivy League college.)

*Maybe I should mention a couple things about the production. 1. the staging of Orpheus crossing the River Styx was pretty freakin' awesome...and I'm sad that my camera battery died before that scene came up, so I can't display the awseomness; 2. the continuo group was mindblowing. Bravo continuo players (Grant Herreid, Charles Weaver, Christa Patton, Avi Stein, & Michael Rigsby)! I also liked Charon's costume. If his face had been totally hidden, it would've been perfect:

What I really want to do here is to float that idea that Monteverdi's latent (or blatant - I don't know much about Monteverdi) homo-erotic mysogeny really rears its ugly head in L'Orfeo.

Let's think it through:
1. All the BEST writing in the opera is for male duets. The choruses are lively, but wantonly and disgracefully repetitive. There are, of course, no arias to speak of. The recitative is, of course, famous for being the beginning AND the end of great recitative writing....but the duets are where it's at, and almost all of the duets are for two men. The exception? Pluto and Proserpina, wherein she slyly seduces him into giving Orpheus a chance to save his ladyfriend, Pluto, all the while knowing he will fail.

2. The only really great writing for any female role is for the Messenger (sung gut-wrenchingly stupendously by Annie Rosen) at the announcement of Eurydice's death. Why, here's Eurydice now, doing what she does best:

3. Aside from dying and being Orpheus's dramatic raison d'etre, Eurydice is virtually a non-entity. She sings a little bit at the beginning, shows up dead, then makes a silent cameo in the underworld just before getting sucked back to hell.

4. After Eurydice is sucked back to hell, Apollo (GLORIOUS Apollo!) descends and carry poor, sad, heartbroken, ready for a rebound Orpheus up to heaven with him...without so much as a thought as to Euryidice's fate. He does so after singing what I can only describe as the greatest love duet in the opera...with Orfeo. Love-death indeed.

Here's Lucy Fitz Gibbon as Orpheus's faithful sidekick, La Musica. She was also quite good...although I wasn't so into the magic glowing bauble thing she had to carry everywhere.

And so Norfolk is underway. If anybody reading this is in NW Connecticut in the coming weeks, I STRONGLY encourage catching a show here. The Music Shed alone is worth the cost of admission and a drearily long Act 4. The next two weeks bring new music (programs yet unknown to me), and beyond that, the chamber music for which Norfolk is so famous.



annie said...

Hi Nick,

A review of our Norfolk cool, and thanks for the shoutout! :) Would it be okay with you if I passed it on to Lalli and the gang?

Also when we met when I was lying on Euridice's stretcher I had no idea you were involved with this kind of opera stuff. Awesome. Do you work in New York at all? I'm there starting next year, we should hang out.

As for homoerotic misogyny, I think L'Orfeo certainly has homoerotic elements, but aside from the issue of Euridice's lack of voice, as it were, I don't think the female characters are shafted to that much greater of an extent than the male characters are - excepting, of course, Orfeo himself. Granted there is the Orfeo-Apollo duet (which is also frequently viewed as a Christian thing, as well as a homoerotic thing), but beyond that, you know, Caronte does his bit, the Messenger does her bit, Pluto does his bit, Proserpina does his bit, and then Orfeo sings again for about a half hour. Equal-opportunity shafting, as it were.

I don't see too much misogyny in Monteverdi as a whole, though - one imagines L'Arianna as focusing on Arianna as much as L'Orfeo focuses on Orfeo, and (although I'm not all that familiar with either work) Poppaea and Ulisse have more female singing than L'Orfeo does. Also check out his madrigals...many of them are full of great female duets and mixed ensembles.

(Can you tell we all took a year's worth of Monteverdi classes? :) )

In any case, it was totally fun to read this review, and congratulations on Darmstadt!


Nick &/or Majel said...

Hi Annie,

Yes, it's true...most of my "theories" are a result of unenlightened speculation based upon frighteningly little exposure - and really my aim is to get people like you, who know better than I, to set me straight. So thank you for that. I am familiar with the madrigals, and am, in fact, even planning to program one of them with my group up in South Hadley this season.

Also, as it turns out, I just moved to NYC, so shoot me an email...or I'll do the same, and we'll get in touch.

Feel free to share the "review" with whomever you like.