MET Opera House building–Lincoln Center/Tuesday November 30th, 2021.
Welcome back friends, And welcome again, this week, to the wonderful world of opera!
And this week, yet again, welcome back to contemporary opera!!!
Yay! yay! yay!
Always great, to discover wonderful new work!
Especially when it is based on a beautiful and powerful Greek myth, about the seriousness of trust, in matters of the heart!
Yay! yay! yay!
Welcome to Aucoin’s “Eurydice” composed in 2020.
A beautiful, heartbreaking take, on the epic Greek myth about Orpheus and Eurydice.
What incredible, overwhelmingly stunning music, unique, and original; what awesome, imaginative, surreal, highly symbolic, deep, and at times, humorous storyline and staging, as well as what beautiful expressive singing by Eurydice throughout the opera, as well as by Orpheus (including Orpheus’ duets between his “terrestrial” and his “divine” self/expression), and from a few other characters, and lastly, as well, from a beautiful, dark and spooky underworld chorus!
Wow! wow! wow!
Here is a wonderful trailer of the opera:
Yet, I was personally hoping, because I am an optimist at heart, that Aucoin’s “Eurydice”, would have ended, plot wise, with a tad more optimism, joy and happiness.
Also, the singing, by all performers, was definitely beautiful, but I was missing classic “arias”.
But that’s me, and those are my preferences in terms of arias and uplifting endings (and I have also seen in the past, some more optimistic and joyful opera endings to “variations” of this myth, which probably also, explains it).
Overall, first, let me start by saying:
Wow! wow! wow!
And this cautionary tale about the need for absolute trust, in matters of love, is so rich, that, as I was just mentioning, it has inspired many “tellings”, by artists, including in matters of opera, in which, believe it or not, some composers along with their librettists, have chosen over the centuries, to tell the story of this illustrious Greek myth, in a variety of ways, and all, celebrate its beauty, seriousness, and importance; and often, most of them, have chosen to “harp on” (pun intended), its darkness, surrealism and sadness, while others, have added new uplifting elements to the “original” myth (which is often “told” with some variations), to bring on, as it concludes, more lightness, joy and happiness, to the overall story.
Wow! and “Yay! yay! yay!
How about that?
And in Aucoin’s “Eurydice”, there is a freshness, a true originality, and a maturity, that makes it deeply moving.
Why is that?
Because Aucoin’s three act “Eurydice” is overall, epic and relatable, enriched with unique, unexpected storyline drama, sadness and fortunately also, moments of true joy, connection, and glee; and celebrates in an unusual fashion, both simple and complex, the power of imagination, the power of pretend play, the power of language, especially linked to “naming” loved ones, the power of memory linked to identity, and of course, last but not least, the power of love.
Wow! wow! wow!
And yet, Aucoin’s “Eurydice” is close in many ways, to the original Greek myth.
In addition, Aucoin’s Eurydice is also filled with truly humorous moments, and incredible beauty, in both clever, powerful, realistic and surreal depictions of both the “Earth” and the “Underworld” realms, overflowing as well, with wonderful new and past symbols/references, to great mythical art.
How about that?
Wow! wow! wow! and Yay! yay! yay!
And finally, Aucoin’s “Eurydice” is also definitely deeply memorable and poignant, and highly realistic, in its depiction, as well, of a potential additional “reason why” a god’s rule from the Underworld, (Hades rule), was transgressed, instead of obeyed, by Orpheus (a “reason why” originating from Eurydice, believe it or not), which lead/leads to Orpheus’ transgression of the mandatory Underworld rule, and lead/leads thereafter, to even more lasting disaster, in the already dark destinies, of young, newly, and happily wed, Orpheus and Eurydice.
Oh boy! Gasp! and Wow!
So again, yay! yay! yay! to new creative takes on this epic Greek myth.
Always great to add on new versions, to a great myth, to help us pause and ponder, on the Human Condition.
But before describing, with more crunchy details, Aucoin’s version of this myth, first, let’s remind ourselves of what Orpheus’ “original” Greek myth is about?
Plethora of versions abound of course, but in a nutshell, here is what is important to know, concerning this legendary Greek hero’s trials and tribulations. Orpheus was the son of famous Calliope, the Muse who presides over eloquence and epic poetry; and either, son of Apollo (god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing, the Sun and light, and poetry), or son of a Thracian prince.
How about that?
Wow! wow! wow!
This glorious ancestry, of course, turned Orpheus into an incredibly talented musician, often depicted playing music and singing, with a greek lyra in his arms.
Yay! yay! yay!
And believe it or not, but Orpheus was not only highly regarded as an artist, and considered, to be an amazingly inspired singer, poet, and prophet, he was endowed as well, with an ability to charm all living things, and even stones, with his music.
Wow! wow! wow!
How about that!
And more on stones later.
Wow! and Yay!
The original myth depicts first, Orpheus having just happily wed his beautiful Eurydice.
Orpheus then, quickly into the story, loses his wife Eurydice, who dies, soon after their wedding, from a snake bite (or for dancing with nymphs, in some variations of the Greek myth).
Dead Eurydice is thus, then sent to the Underworld.
Gasp! and Wow!
Overcome with desperate grief, over his wife’s “passing”, Orpheus, pleads with Zeus (God of the sky and thunder, chief Greek deity, who rules as king of the gods, on Mount Olympus. Zeus is considered the ruler, protector, and father of all gods and human), to allow him to be reunited with his wife.
And in the myth, Zeus tells then Orpheus, to negotiate Eurydice’s “rescue”, with his brother Hades, the “master”/king of the Underworld.
Hades accepts Orpheus’ request, but includes a devastatingly cruel “condition” for Orpheus.
Orpheus is to reach the Underworld by himself, and from there, has to walk back to Earth, followed by his wife Eurydice, without being able, as they walk back up the trail to Earth, to exchange a glance with her, or allowed to check, that she is indeed, following him; or even explain to her why, he has to behave that way, or else, he is condemned to lose her again, to the Underworld; and this time, indefinitely.
Gasp! Oh boy! and Wow!
And as they progress back up, Orpheus is not sure, if Eurydice, is indeed following him, as he can’t hear her foot steps.
Oh boy! oh boy! oh boy!
Filled with insurmountable angst, as he is nearing the exit, Orpheus finally, cannot bear that “uncertainty”; and turns his head, back to Eurydice, to check on his sweetheart. And as Orpheus does so, he sees, that Eurydice is indeed, right on his heels, but suddenly, Eurydice is whisked away, back to the Underworld, for the second time.
Gasp! Gasp! Gasp!
Orpheus loses her; again; and of course, Orpheus is then, inconsolable; as he returns to Earth.
Gasp! Gasp! Gasp!
What a despairing tragedy!
So, of course, this incredibly sad and tragic Greek myth, has been told countless times over the centuries, by many writers, from ancient writers, even before Homer (i.e. the seventh century B.C.E.), or Romans: Virgil, to Ovid, to Boetius (from 594 AD), to Dante’s “Inferno” by Dante Alighieri, and his 14th century epic poem “Divine Comedy”, which starts with “Inferno” (see below a beautiful rendition of Dante’s nine circles of Hell, from Botticelli), and is followed by “Purgatorio” and “Paradiso”. The “Inferno” describing Dante’s journey through Hell, guided by the ancient Roman poet, Virgil; which of course, is dissimilar to Orpheus and Eurydice’s plight, yet similar, in that, Dante, visits the chilling and scary Underworld, and is also (Dante), in love with another “unattainable” woman (Beatrice); to a 1470 poem “The tale of Orpheus and Euridices his Quene” by Henryson, to 1922 “Sonnets to Orpheus” by Rilke, to 1990 “The song of Orpheus” by Gaiman, (and countless others).
And each time, the authors emphasize the importance, the seriousness, the difficulties, that arise sometimes as well also, in matters of love, concerning trust, which, can be paramount, and need to be managed with utmost care, otherwise, invariably lead to the destruction of a relationship, forever, and send humankind, and even the best intentioned souls, in a figurative or symbolic “Underworld”.
Of course, unsurprisingly, this Greek myth has captured generations of artists’ imagination throughout various other art forms, as well, including sculpture: as in this beautiful rendition below, of Orpheus’ “Head turning” (1777) towards Eurydice (1776), both by Canova.
And of course, there are countless paintings around this myth, by illustrious artists: (whether of the Orpheus myth, or of the Underworld) from 1508 by Titian, to 1512 by Dürer, or from 1636 by Rubens, to 1650 by Poussin, or from 1861 by Corot, to 1862 by Delacroix, or from late 1860’s by Watts (see below).
Yet, I also do really enjoy from 1910, by Maurice Denis (see below), this happier and lighter “Orpheus” painting, of the early, fun and charming days of courtship in the “Upper world”, between Orpheus and Eurydice; and of course, there are countless other paintings of various episodes of this myth.
Yay! yay! yay!
And of course, Gustave Doré’s 1879 painting of the myth, and further multiple illustrations of the Underworld, and of Dante’s trip to the Underworld, do come to mind immediately as well.
What an awesomely dark depiction of the Underworld/ Hell!
And in matters of opera, this illustrious Greek myth, has also inspired many composers: (Peri and Caccini’s in 1600, and later in 1602, Caccini’s “Euridice”, to Monteverdi’s 1607 “L’Orfeo”, to Gluck’s 1762 “Orfeo ed Euridice” (as seen below) and one I love, because it ends well!
And even recently on Broadway, one can admire Mitchell’s 2010 “Hadestown”, also inspired by Orpheus and Eurydice’s myth:
And of course, pop music has also been inspired by Orpheus and Eurydice: from the Herd’s 1967 “from the Underworld”, to She and him’s 2008 “Don’t look back” to Hozier’s 2019 “Talk” or Bareilles’ 2019 “Orpheus” among others; as has stage (for example Anouilh’s 1941 play “Eurydice”, or Tennessee Williams’ 1957 “Orpheus descending”; and as has film: (for example Cocteau’s epic and surreal 1950 “Orphée”(see below), or Camus’ 1959 “Black Orpheus”, or even Diegues’ 1999 “Orfeu”, to Carter’s 2012 “I am Orpheus”.
And of course, video games have also been inspired by this myth: for example “The battle of Olympus”, “Don’t look back”, “Dante’s Inferno” or “Hades” (see below).
You get the picture, this “Orpheus and Eurydice”‘ myth, about the difficulties of the Human Condition, in matters of love, is a highly inspiring myth!
And it is one, which of course, is also reminiscent, of another key Greek myth referenced as well, in Aucoin’s “Eurydice” opera: the myth of “Sisyphus”.
A myth, “Sisyphus”, about other difficulties and punishment springing from the Human Condition:
In a nutshell, the “Sisyphus” myth is about the following: Sisyphus, a highly intelligent, clever, and manipulative king, of what is now know as Corinth, was punished by the Greek gods, for cheating death, twice, through sheer cleverness; and as punishment, was forced to roll an immense boulder, up a hill, only for it, to roll down every time it neared the top, repeating this action, for eternity.
Gasp! gasp! gasp! and Wow! wow! wow!
Camus, in his 1942 essay about this “Sisyphus myth”, saw Sisyphus, as personifying the absurdity of human life, but also concluded, that “one must imagine Sisyphus happy” as “the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”
Agreed with the importance of trying to grow and better ourselves, as much as possible, with purpose, joy and enthusiasm, despite our imperfect humanity, during our life time!
Yay! yay! yay! and Wow! wow! wow!
Another key Greek myth, “Sisyphus”, for many as well, and also, unsurprisingly found, not only in Aucoin’s “Eurydice”, but also, in many Hades’ Underworld depictions (including the “Hades” video game aforementioned), since Hades and Sisyphus battled together as well, in some versions of the “Sisyphus” myth.
So, what to say about Aucoin and his version, imagined in collaboration with librettist Ruhl?
Let’s first, meet the composer and his librettist:
Matthew Aucoin (born in 1990) is a highly talented American composer, conductor, pianist, writer, and a 2018 MacArthur Fellow. He is Artist in Residence at Los Angeles Opera, and has worked as a composer and conductor with the Metropolitan Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, the American Repertory Theater, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and Music Academy of the West. He is co-Artistic Director of the American Modern Opera Company. Aucoin is best known for his two 2015 operas (“Crossing” and “Second Nature”).
Sarah Rulh (born in 1974), is an American playwright, professor, and essayist. Among her most popular plays are “Eurydice” (2003), “The Clean House” (2004), and “In the Next Room” (2008). She has been the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship and the PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation for Theater Award for a distinguished American playwright in mid-career.
Wow! wow! wow!
Now, here is a summary of the three act storyline, imagined by Aucoin’s librettist, Ruhl:
In Act one, we meet, on a beach, young and light hearted Eurydice and Orpheus (and his divine “double” singing constantly with Orpheus beautiful duets, throughout the opera: what a great idea to symbolize Orpheus’ half mortal/ half divine ancestry), happily in love, as Orpheus (and his double) get(s) ready to propose with a ring made out of”string”, which Eurydice agrees to, (yet, not super convincingly: a great idea to insinuate from the very beginning, that Eurydice does not take the idea of marriage, as seriously as she should).
We then meet Eurydice’s father in the Underworld, who writes a letter to his daughter, to give her fatherly advice about marriage and love, and laments that he doesn’t know how to get Eurydice, his letter. (What a moving idea).
On her wedding day, Eurydice is warm, and steps out of her party to get some water. She realizes she wished her father was by her side, and wishes that there would be more interesting people at her wedding. (Perhaps she should find more purpose in her life, to have interesting people by her side, before getting married?)
A mysterious, “interesting” man, (yet a total stranger), appears then, and claims he has a letter from her father back at his Penthouse apartment, which he could give to her right then, if she wanted to. She agrees to it, and follows the man back to his apartment. When she realizes he wants to woo her with champagne, dancing, and more, Eurydice tries to grab the letter and run. She trips on a staircase, and falls down into the Underworld, to her death. (Perhaps, she should not trust total strangers? not run off, on her wedding day with a total stranger? And actually be more present, with Orpheus, to the joy of their wedding day?)
In Act two, three stones (remember the stones?), and not Cerberus (the three headed hound/watch dog, at the entrance of the Underworld, also charmed by Orpheus’ music in the myth), “Little stone, “Big stone”, and “Loud stone”, explain to the audience, that Eurydice has just died, and and as a dead person, she will lose her memory and all power of language. (What a great idea to have “stones” capable of language, since they can be “moved” by Orpheus’ lyricism.
Eurydice arrives in the Underworld in an elevator. Inside the elevator, it rains on Eurydice. She loses her memory. (What a great symbol, to have “rain”, erase your memory.)
As Eurydice steps out of the elevator she is greeted by her father, and Eurydice does not recognize him. Her father explains to her what happened to her, and how he had help (from the stones), relearning language (by reading and writing), and how the water in the elevator, or in the river of “forgetfulness”, did not “rain”/was not dipped hard enough, in the first place. (What great ideas and wonderful variations, to the Styx river).
In the world above, Orpheus (and his double) mourns Eurydice’s death and write(s) her a letter, but do(es) not know how to get it to her. In the Underworld, her father builds a room out of string for Eurydice. (What a great idea to use a simple prop, string, to create a “make believe” room, to comfort and welcome his daughter in this cold, inhuman and chilling Underworld).
A letter falls from the sky. The father reads it, and tells Eurydice, it is from Orpheus. And the name “Orpheus” triggers/ jolts back something in her memory. Eurydice remembers who she is, and recognizes her father. Orpheus lowers works from Shakespeare to the Underworld via a string, which help Eurydice regain the power of language, including reading and writing. Orpheus (and his double) then decide(s) to get Eurydice back from the Underworld, and we hear Orpheus (and his double) singing as he approaches the Underworld. (What a great idea to have names, trigger lost memory, and great works of art, help regain the power of language).
In Act three, Hades appears and informs Orpheus (and his double) of the rules for bringing Eurydice back to the world above. Eurydice can follow Orpheus, but Orpheus cannot look back to make sure Eurydice is indeed following him. Eurydice’s father tells his daughter that she should follow Orpheus, and live a full life, and tells Eurydice of Hades’ rule which needs to be obeyed, which was given by Hades to Orpheus, to get back safely to the “Upper” world.
Oh boy! Someone should be listening.
Eurydice sees Orpheus ahead, is afraid, and not convinced it is him. She eventually rushes, and calls out his name.
Startled, of course, Orpheus, turns around, and the two love birds are then and there, fatefully and helplessly pulled apart. (This is where maturity and “trust” comes into play, and young Eurydice should have not “tempted” Orpheus by calling him, by his name, and should have just followed him with blind faith, especially since she was expressly and unequivocally told by her father, the seriousness of Hades “rules”, but the Underworld being so dark, her fear is understandable, and of course, humans are not infallible, they make mistakes, and have to be careful, and importantly, have to learn to trust not only themselves, but also their chosen “one” as well, to make their relationship work and grow: that’s the whole point of this myth!)
Eurydice’s father, as soon as his daughter departs (and before the fateful “head turning around” from Orpheus chooses then, to dip himself in the river of forgetfulness, after speaking directions to his childhood home, he lowers himself in the water. (Personally I can’t believe he does that, as he is supposed to be happy for his daughter living a full life, but it makes for a sad episode).
Eurydice then returns to the Underworld, and discovers what her father did, and as she realizes that Hades a.k.a. the “interesting” man, wants to wed her, she follows her father’s example, not before writing a letter to Orpheus future bride, on how to care for Orpheus (They have spent no time together as a married couple, so I am not sure what she can write about “married” life, even if obviously, they have had some time together before the wedding).
The elevator descends once again, and it is Orpheus (and his double as always). Orpheus recognizes Eurydice, but soon, it rains on Orpheus, he finds the letter Eurydice wrote his future bride, yet because of the rain, his memory is gone, and his ability to read it (and write), as well, He does not know what to do with the letter.
Orpheus just looks, forever lost.
Of course, extremely sad for all, this fateful ending to Aucoin’s “Eurydice”.
But what an unusual take on this myth! Even if I also wished, Eurydice would have been depicted as a more capable and modern woman, instead of a fearful one, still basking in the past, instead of trying to build her future, alongside her husband, with energy and enthusiasm.
Yay! yay! yay!
What to say about the production?
That Mary Zimmerman’s production was just incredible and highly imaginative! So rich with fun imaginary sets/costumes in both realms: from a beautiful impressionistic looking beach, to a fun wedding party, and an awesome penthouse, for the Upper world, to rich symbols, and past art references, for the Underworld: such as the nine circles of Hell, from Dante’s “Inferno”, depicted cleverly; to visual symbols from Doré’s depiction of Hell aforementioned, in particular, the constantly present “tomb like box” on stage; the darkness and coldness of the Underworld; the incredible costumes of the Underworld guardians, including of the three “stones”, and including the “tree” guardian; the poetry of Orpheus’ double (wearing gold “wings” to signify his divine nature) throughout the opera in both the Upper and the Underworld; the silliness of Lucifer/ Hades in both realms, in terms of behavior, and costume wise.
What great imaginative “make believe” power also, a simple strand of “string” can bring an audience (from building an imaginary room, to delivering works of literature), or letters falling out of the sky; what great celebration as well of the power of love as well, in attentive small gestures, to the importance of language, written and oral, including on the walls of the Underworld, to the idea of a river of “forgetfulness” and a shower of “forgetfulness”, instead of the Styx, what fun appeal to new characters: the charming three “stones” instead of Cerberus, the three headed hound, the fun wedding “robotic” ballet, the fun wooing happening in Lucifer’s penthouse, the unexpected (yet of course understandable), arrival in the Underworld, of Sisyphus, rolling his heavy boulder on stage.
All of it was just, spellbinding!
So awesomely rich!
So much to see! And so much to listen to as well!
What to say about the singers?
That all, were mind blowing, just terrific in their performances, incredibly well conducted, by awesome MET Music Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, from incredible and crystalline sounding, American soprano, Erin Morley, as young and frightened Eurydice, to besotted and loving Orpheus (whether from Canadian baritone, Joshua Hopkins, the “terrestrial” Orpheus, to celestial sounding, and great looking Polish countertenor, Jakub Józef Orliński, who also happen to look alike, and sang great duets together, throughout the opera), to great sounding and moving Canadian bass baritone, Nathan Berg, as Eurydice’s father, to entertaining and wonderfully fun British tenor, Barry Banks as Hades/Lucifer, even if I wished we could have heard more classic arias.
Yet, what incredible music throughout!
Wow! wow! wow!
So, to sum up my feelings, about Aucoin’s “Eurydice”, admired last Tuesday, at the MET Opera, in great company: what a terrific and moving new take, on an iconic myth, set to awesomely beautiful, surreal, yet heart stirring, and incredibly unusual music; and what an awesome and imaginative production; not only celebrating the importance of trust in love, which forewarns mankind, of some of the harsh consequences it can experience, if trust between two love birds, is not strong enough; what great imagination, and at times as well, what great humor, Aucoin’s “Eurydice” also embodies, whether in the terrestrial “Upper world”, or in the “Underworld”.
And Yay! yay! yay!
Just breath taking!
Until next time friends!
Eternal butterflies 😊