Review: Orfeo ed Euridice (The Canadian Opera Company)

by Melissa Bridges

From the moment the curtain rose on The Canadian Opera Company’s latest production, Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, I knew I was witnessing something extremely special. The first of the composer’s reform operas (meaning simpler plots and less overly complex music), this particular production is a lesson on how keeping things simple can have amazingly dramatic and wonderful results.

Ranieri de’ Calzabigi’s libretto is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus, a legendary musician, poet and prophet who could charm all living things with his music. The 90 minute opera follows Orfeo (Lawrence Zazzo), who is mourning the death of his wife Euridice (Isabel Bayrakdarian). As he is debating taking his own life, Amore (Ambur Braid) offers him the chance to travel to the underworld in order to rescue his true love with two conditions: he can not look back at her and he can’t tell her why.

Canadian director Robert Carsen has done a remarkable job keeping the feel and spirit that Gluck had originally intended for the opera. Working with German Set and Costume Designer Tobias Hoheisel’s, they have brilliantly created a world that is perfect in stark simplicity. The opera opens on a deserted beach with a processional of mourners that resembled silhouettes moving across the hazy horizon. The image was so striking in its bleakness that I was on the edge of my seat before the first note was even sung.

The performances by the three leads are solid, but for me, American Lawrence Zazzo stole the show. His aria following Euridice’s second death was so well sung, it literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian, last seen as Pamina in the COC’s The Magic Flute, was incredible in her ability to switch emotional gears so quickly and her voice simply soared. Equally enjoyable was COC Ensemble Studio member Ambur Braid who made the most of her smaller role.

I particularly enjoyed the COC Chorus who were vital to the opera’s plot as an almost fourth character. They were not only extremely well sung under Chorus Master Sandra Horst’s direction, but they provided some of the opera’s most visually stunning moments. The orchestra, lead by Harry Bicket, played marvellously, for once not overpowering the singers on stage as they have for most of the operas this season.

Orfeo ed Euridice is playing at The Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts (145 Queen Street West) until May 28, 2011
– Shows times are on specific dates (details available here) and are generally at 7:30PM, except matinees at 2:00PM
– Ticket prices range from $35.03 – $214.70, rush tickets available at $22 every night at 11:00AM the day of and $12 standing room only tickets are available for every performance
– Tickets are available online, or through the box office at 416-363-8231

Photo of Lawrence Zazzo by Michael Cooper