20 reasons to see Orfeo ed Euridice!

By Maestro Eiki Isomura

Mezzo Soprano Laura Coale performing the role of Orfeo at Opera in the Heights.  Photo by Deji Osinulu Photography.

Mezzo Soprano Laura Coale performing the role of Orfeo at Opera in the Heights.  Photo by Deji Osinulu Photography.

1) The piece that changed the rules of opera. At a time when opera was primarily a vehicle for vocal display, Gluck pioneered a new approach to the art form rooted in storytelling. 'Orfeo' was his first so-called "reform opera," in which he abandoned formulaic conventions and created a remarkably continuous dramatic narrative that unfolds in real-time.

2) Laura Coale's definitive portrayal of Orfeo. I have heard every recording I can get my hands on, modern and historic. Ms. Coale makes them all sound stodgy and generic in comparison. She gives Orfeo strength and psychological insight previously unheard, unimagined. 

3) Yunnie Park's voice of pure gold. Our Euridice will melt your heart the first moment you hear her. When Keith and I heard her audition in New York, we both cried. One does not expect that to happen during the course of hearing 8 hours of auditions for 3 consecutive days. There's just something about her. You will feel a glow.

4) Julia Fox's powerful elegance. A consummate artist, vocal phenom, and dream colleague, Ms. Fox is one of the most sought-after musicians in town. She brings such integrity and sensitivity to Amore that our director kept giving her more things to do. We kept elevating her role, because she keeps elevating the production.

5) Leslie Swackhamer's bold vision and rigorous direction. Our fearless director has fired up our production team and empowered our cast and chorus to realize this challenging piece into an immersive journey from the deepest darkness to the most radiant light.

6) Krissy Richmond's world-class choreography. It is awe-inspiring to behold the beautiful and transportive work of Ms. Richmond, former Principal Dancer with the Houston Ballet. What a privilege it has been for everyone to work with an artist of her caliber.

7) Torsten Louis's dynamic set. With trusses and hanging elements never before used at Oh!, Mr. Louis has created a set that seamlessly glides, swirls, and flows from the Underworld to Elysium in dream-like fashion.

8) Jim Elliot's completely reimagined lighting design. Leveraging the trusses and his new lightboard, Mr. Elliot has reengineered the theater to create entirely new looks and possibilities. Long-time patrons of Oh! will notice an immediate difference.

9) Barry Doss's striking costumes. Mr. Doss and his team knocked it out of the park dressing 3 principals and 16 (!) chorus members with distinct looks for each of the three realms they inhabit. The creativity and craft that went into Amore's look alone could easily hold a spot on this list.

10) The chorus that can do it all. This is not only one of the best sounding choruses Oh! has assembled in recent memory, it is also one of the most versatile. Such is what this piece demands, and the Oh! Chorus delivers with intensity, precision, and beauty in every aspect of the storytelling.

11) The Oh! Orchestra's rendition of the Dance of the Furies. This is the incredibly fiery music that depicts the nightmarish creatures standing in Orfeo's path to finding Euridice. It sounds like a fast and furious Vivaldi concerto in which every member of the string section is a soloist. If you see smoke, it might be coming from their fingerboards.

12) Wendy Bergen's flute solo in the Dance of the Blessed Spirits. Our principal flutist delivers this beloved melody with great expressivity and sophistication. This music is a frequent choice for bridal processions for a reason: it is both contemplative and deeply moving.

13) Marlon Grigsby and Lindsay Cortner's sublime pas de deux. Ms. Swackhamer beautifully sets up the aforementioned Dance of the Blessed Spirits for Ms. Richmond's poetic pas de deux executed by our amazing dancers from the Uptown Dance Company. Their artistry will take your breath away.

14) Che farò senza Euridice? "What will I do without Eurydice?" asks Orfeo of himself and of the gods in the third and final act. This gorgeous aria has been a favorite of the repertoire ever since Gluck premiered it in 1762, and might be considered today required study for every operatic mezzo-soprano.

15) Ms. Swackhamer's depiction of the Underworld and the Elysian Fields. Without giving too much away, the staging of these scenes are a synthesis of every aspect of the operatic art form, and I am hopeful that Gluck would have been exceedingly pleased with our interpretation and execution.

16) Amore's wings. The goddess of love needs wings. And Mr. Doss's creation was not only engineered with extraordinary craft but was also, appropriately enough, made with love. It is a beautiful piece that adds a magical element to the production.

17) The "four amigos." There are four featured soloists in the chorus: Sarah Bannon, Monica Isomura, Dash Waterbury, and Riley Vogel. This quartet of wonderful artists, affectionately called the "four amigos," not only sing beautifully together, but who also help orchestrate some of the more complex sequences of stage action in this show.

18) Gluck's influential orchestral innovations. Gluck was worshiped alongside Beethoven by none other than Hector Berlioz, the fiercely original and progressive romantic composer who literally wrote the book on orchestration. Some of Gluck's remarkably forward-looking effects include, offstage echos by a second, smaller orchestra, the unprecedented use of harp to represent Orfeo's lyre, and sounds mimicking nature to evoke the Elysian Fields.

19) The sum that is greater than its parts. Gluck's groundbreaking innovations were rooted in his audacious attempt to unify every aspect of the operatic art form within his control - poetry, music, drama, dance -  in service of storytelling. Critics aren't so sure that he succeeded, but I am confident that this production, driven by the synergistic efforts of our wonderful team of artists, realizes his ideal. 

20) The opportunity to witness the Houston premiere. Remarkably enough, in spite of its critically important place in the history of opera, Opera in the Heights has the honor of presenting the very first fully-staged production of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice in Houston. Take advantage of this exceedingly rare opportunity to see this work, brought to life like only Opera in the Heights can.