Orphée et Euridice - Staatsoper Stuttgart, 29 December 2009
With a world-famous ballet company on their doorstep, you might think Stuttgart Opera would be gagging to work with them but, no, Orphée et Euridice (sic) is their first ever co-production, and it premiered this summer to a generally positive reaction. There's enough of each to satisfy both opera and ballet fans, instantly doubling the potential audience, always a bonus in these difficult times. It looked sold out or thereabouts on the night I visited, with interval snacks plucked from a steaming cauldron of d1ldo sized boiled sausages in the first floor salon perhaps an additional temptation for some.
Choreographer/director Christian Spuck selected Gluck's longer, later and now rarely performed 1774 Paris version (though I think with some of the original orchestration retained) because there are more ballets in between the singing. But rather than than alternating the two, he's joined the ballet sequences to the musical drama and the singers to the dancers, creating a seamless sung/danced drama. The ballets accompany, expand and comment on the simple, direct narrative rather than interrupting it. The singers are choregraphed too - it took a while to tell corps and chorus apart until I clocked that the dancers have muscles where the singers have breath support.
One of the difficulties of staging the Paris version is that Gluck's story ends conclusively with Eurydice revived and married to Orpheus - but then there's a 15 minute ballet to finish with. How to handle this? Spuck uses it to puncture Gluck's happy ending. His final ballet mirrors his opening one. In the middle of the wedding celebrations, Eurydice falls writhing to the floor - and once more Orpheus is mourning his lost love. It becomes clear the whole story was a dream, a journey of the mind, perhaps a way of coming to terms with grief. Unfortunately for Spuck, Gluck's relentlessly jolly music undermines a potentially interesting and structurally satisfying idea.
A spare, effective design sets all the action in a decrepit ballroom. Orpheus is surrounded by a mass of mourners in dark sparkling evening wear. They transform into furies for a spectacular whirling ballet, recostume in all-white for the Elysian scenes, then return to their party gear for the end. It looks beautiful but often cluttered, diffusing what should be the most emotionally penetrating moments by turning them into crowd scenes. The journey out of the underworld, where Orpheus is accompanied only by eight lookalike Eurydices, is the most simply staged scene and perhaps because of that is the most poignant and memorable. On the other hand, Amor's appearance as a burlesque queen surrounded by blindfolded ballet boys in sequinned hotpants is arresting for all the wrong reasons.
The standard of singing was very much what you'd expect from a German regional opera company, not exactly world-class but more than competent and often surprisingly good. This performance's Orpheus was Kenneth Tarver (though Luciano Botelho is the tenor shown in the production photos). His secure, even tone and superb breath control were ideally suited to the slow, wrenching music, less so to the single coloratura aria with its demands on quickfire accuracy. Alla Kravchuk and Catriona Smith doubled as Eurydice, which as they sound and in costume even look very alike seemed inexplicably redundant. A few harsh notes didn't detract from the charm of Yuko Kakuta's bubbly Amor. The chorus looked good, moved well, and hit all the right notes, but I couldn't identify one single word they sang all night.
Nicholas Kok performed the remarkable task of keeping orchestra, dancers and singers together at a lively pace, though the number of intonation problems, phrasing variations and plain simple errors from the violins made me wonder if the regular orchestra was bolstered with unseasoned seasonal stand-ins.
***** more photos plus video and audio on next page *****