Aucoin, Orphic Moment
Gluck, Orpheus and Eurydice

I was pleasantly offered a ticket to the opera at the Landestheater this evening for an experimental production, and decided to give it a try.

The 26-year-old American composer Matthew Aucoin has reimagined Gluck‘s Orfeo ed Euridice, with a performance of Aucoin’s Orphic Moment wrapped around Gluck’s music (styled as Orfeo Squared) at the Salzburg Landestheater.  I definitely did not understand his concept.

I’m really not sure where to begin, so I guess I should hit plot, music, production, and performance.

From a plot perspective, we started with Orpheus’ existential decision to look back at Eurydice just before reaching safety, which sends her back to the Underworld.  In this version, his look is almost intentional – the tragic loss of Eurydice the first time had made him a more inspired artist.  We then left Aucoin’s music and went back to Gluck’s.  Where Gluck changed the ending of the myth to have Love bring Eurydice back to life a second time despite Orpheus’ look, Aucoin gave an additional plot twist to have Orpheus reject this ending and walk away from her.  Why?  Psychobabble?  This reworking just ended – the audience was not even aware that it ended – we only realized when the cast started bowing.

On to the music, Aucoin’s new music did not speak to me either.  I’m not sure how to classify it.  Modern, of course, but that’s not really a classification.  Maybe I’ll just stick with “not ugly” (not pretty, either).  But what was its relationship to Gluck’s music?  It did not add anything, and it did not provide an enlightening juxtaposition.  Did it have a point?

As for the production… we had a minimalist set with a lot of moving parts and projections (of Eurydice’s face), with a dancer in  a box representing Eurydice appearing as an alternative to the singer portraying Eurydice.  I suppose the idea of the whole staging was to capture Orpheus’ mental state.  This was not German Regietheater, and clearly they were trying to portray the actual plot (some of which is indeed psychodramatic inside Orpheus’ head).  Did it work?  If in the end I was not clear on what was going on, then I’ll have to say no.

The Mozarteum Orchestra in the pit sounded fantastic.  Aucoin himself conducted, although it was entirely unclear if he had a role in the orchestra’s sound.  Gluck’s opera is rather static (as were the bits written by Aucoin), so the performers would need to drive this work forward, and Aucoin did not.  The singers – Rowan Hellier (Orpheus), Laura Nicorescu (Eurydice), and Tamara Ivaniš (Love) – also did not.  Their voices were fine (Hellier’s voice a little weaker than the others – although she has much more to sing, she was weak from the start, perhaps holding back to make it through a performance her role must carry), but I did not sense sufficient emotion or nuance.

As a final verdict, I think Aucoin may just have tried to be too clever.  A performance of Gluck’s opera, complete and without all of the other distractions, may have succeeded with these same forces.  In fact, the cast was entirely acceptable and the staging (of the Gluck portions) did try to elucidate the plot, so without Aucoin’s distractions the Gluck on its own probably would have made me leave the evening very satisfied.  Unfortunately, Aucoin’s confused frame did not allow proper focus on the Gluck opera as such, making the experience unfulfilling.

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