Heavenly production of ‘Orfeo’

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Recent Grammy-nominee Vivica Genaux stars in this new production.

Eschewing the marshmallow-y approach of its previous production, the Los Angeles Opera is now presenting a simple but elegant version of Gluck’s “Orfeo Ed Euridice” at the dear old Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. This early (1762) opera, which breaks away from the highly embellished works of the time, boasts a combination of sublime music, inspired singing and graceful dance sequences.

Much of the credit goes to the director, Lucinda Childs, who has a background in choreography. Although she is not listed in the program as the choreographer, we assume she is responsible for those duties. She makes everything in the production highly satisfying, from the dramatic opening through the scenes of Orfeo’s descent into the underworld. In the Greek myth, Orfeo mourns the loss of his wife, Euridice, who has been bitten by a poisonous snake. Because of his musical gifts, the gods allow him to enter the nether climes to beg for her return to life.

Surrounded by mourners in black, Orfeo appears in a rather formal dark suit. (There is no lute in sight.) The stage is bare, but a scrim with delicately colored trees is set into a rectangular frame, which appears in back of the stage. This frame is used effectively in later scenes when Orfeo confronts the Furies and then the denizens of Elysian Fields. Tobias Hoheisel designed the clever sets.

Orfeo was written for a mezzo-soprano and Vivica Genaux is excellent in this “trouser role,” using her distinctive voice intelligently. Onstage for the entire opera, she performed with remarkable vocal versatility. As her Euridice, Maria Bayo showed off considerable singing skills, her vibrant soprano meshing well with Genaux’s lower register. She is petulant and furious when Orfeo, under orders from the gods, refuses to look at her.

Carmen Giannattassio as Amor, the god of Love, takes the third principal role in this under two-hour confection. In the one extravagant note of the production, she/he descends from the sky sitting rather uncomfortably on a blue globe. She, too, was impressive, exhibiting a sweet voice and looking appropriately flirtatious.

Hartmut Haenchen conducted the orchestra with a perfect understanding of the opera’s special requirements. The chorus, with an important role, did its job well under the direction of William Vendice.

Perhaps Placido Domingo, the opera’s artistic director, will appreciate the beauty and delicacy of this well-directed opera and stay away from the outrageous and the dull.