Orfeo

8pm, Saturday, June 13, at Jordan Hall, New England
Conservatory of Music

Orfeo was done as a “chamber opera”, which in this case means
that there were costumes, fairly elaborate staging, a fair amount
of choreography, but no sets beyond a couple of platforms behind
the orchestra, which was onstage with the singers.

Recorder players will want to know that there’s one fairly
extensive recorder solo in this opera, played ably by Alexandra
Opsahl, who was also one of the cornetto players. It was one of
the dances in a fairly extended wedding scene. Monteverdi wrote
parts for a number of the virtuoso instrumentalists of the Mantuan
court, and they were all well-played here. I especially enjoyed
the brass choir which come out a central door backstage when they
were required. (The cornetto players were often seated in the
orchestra, but the four trombones just came out and played when
needed.) Also remarkable was the harp playing of Maxine Eilander.

The singing was beautiful; I would especially single out Aaron
Sheehan in the title role and Theresa Wakim as Proserpina. It was
also emotionally engaging — One person I talked to had heard
sobbing during Orfeo’s pleading with Caronte to take him across
the Styx in Act 3.

I would also mention the dancing of Carlos Fittante as several
different gods as a memorable contribution to the evening.

As far as the staging goes, I think they tried to go farther
than their resources warranted. One person I talked to was
especially impressed with the flowers. I was sitting in the
second row, and I never saw any flowers. A person who had been
sitting in the balcony also was annoyed at the incompleteness of
her view. Even with the best possible seat, watching the singers
in the foreground, the orchestra in the middle ground, whatever
was happening on the two platforms behing the orchestra, and the
supertitles above the action all at the same time would have been
taxing.

They justify this kind of staging because it may be similar to
what the first performance had in Mantua in 1607. But quite a
number of people were annoyed at the prices (about twice what
concerts cost) for something that wasn’t really staged. And
certainly there was no discount for seats with partial views of
the action. Jordan Hall is a wonderful place to see concerts; and
a little less wonderful for operas.

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