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A Swimming Success

Long Beach
Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool
06/11/2010 -  and 12*, 13 June 2010
Ricky Ian Gordon: Orpheus & Euridice
Elizabeth Futral (Euridice), Todd Palmer (Orpheus), H. Andrew Wascher (Orpheus 2), Jennifer H. Jackson (Euridice 2), Monika Dianne Beal (Player), Mark Bringelson (Player), Bety Le (Player), Montana Volby (Player)
Melvin Chen (Piano), Steven White (Conductor)
Andreas Mitisek (Stage Director), Alan Muraoka (Set Designer), Dan Weingarten (Lighting Designer), Marcy Froehlich (Costume Designer), John F. Flynn (Videographer), Bob Christian (Sound Designer)

(© Keith Ian Polakoff)

Myths and legends come and go. Lessons of love rock to and fro. So our couple continues to grow. No doubt, behold, his words will glow.

Ricky Ian Gordon creates a reflective interpretation of the timeless story involving a famed piper who lays eyes on a beautiful nymph, eternally united after swirling through a vicissitude of emotions. Gordon’s fascination with this tale emanated from his introduction to the movie “Black Orpheus” that forever lingered in his mind. The catalyst for composing the visceral score came from caring for his ailing partner in 1995 which eventually led him to a friendship with Grammy nominated clarinetist Todd Palmer.

This 80-minute song cycle premiered in October 2005 as part of Lincoln Center’s New Visions series, which reappeared in Long Beach Opera’s 2008 season with an interesting twist. Forever open to revisions of his own works, Ricky Ian Gordon was excited to learn that the Belmont Plaza Olympic Pool would be his canvas. Water embodies a symbolic sense of fluidity and lucidness that takes us into another dimension. Two years later we find essentially the same production returning to Belmont Shores (with a slightly larger orchestra under the baton of Steven White) that is both refreshing and enthralling.

Historically, Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus & Euridice was somewhat of a metamorphosis, beginning with Palmer on woodwind, then adding piano, a quintet and finally an augmented string section. The clever inventiveness by the composer is transcribed through Todd Palmer’s exhilarating and intoxicating notes as Orpheus alongside the effervescent narration by internationally acclaimed soprano Elizabeth Futral in the role of Euridice.

Conceived and directed by Andreas Mitisek, this production provides a culmination of the senses with a powerful magnitude. Using a mirrored set of actors playing Orpheus and Euridice (nicely executed by H. Andrew Wascher and Jennifer H. Jackson), we witness the transparency of happiness and heartbreak of the two protagonists. As the prologue begins in complete darkness with Todd Palmer on the clarinet, Dan Weingarten slowly illuminates the stage to display a small white boat. This prop is significant in that much of the action and music takes place on and alongside the floating craft. Throughout the score, this music has a certain sense of joy, frivolity and somberness. Elizabeth Futral is in prime form as she sings with arduous pathos and soulful expressions. We enter the realm of the heroine’s emotions.

Futral’s husband Steven White provides a wonderful balance of sound from the orchestra, with Melvin Chen’s striking piano accents and the impressive articulations of Palmer and Futral. Nowhere do we get lost in the opera’s time line, thanks to John F. Flynn’s video graphics displaying the various delineated chapters that neighbors true to life pictures of clarinetist and singer that supplements and magnifies the unfolding of events poolside. This technique works well to emphasize the complexity of the drama.

Poet and composer Ricky Ian Gordon finds himself in the right place at the right time. His libretto is powerful and thought provoking. Undoubtedly, there’s much to digest in the text; therefore, it is highly recommended to research his composition following the performance in order to fully understand his insights and talents. One of the most memorable aspects of Orpheus & Euridice is the subtlety of a repetitious motif that lingers in one’s memory. Euridice first exclaims, “I am part of something now”, and ends with the anguishing refrain, “We are not a part of anything.” These phrases capture the plight of Calzabigi’s anguished and tormented couple. As mythological as it sounds, there’s an element of truth and reality.

From Marcy Forehlich’s relaxed costuming to the talents of Sound Designer Bob Christian (which are, indeed, a pleasant feature under the challenges of performing inside a natatorium), Long Beach Opera’s preeminence in artistic visions are above and beyond anyone’s expectations.

Christie Grimstad



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