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Not Bad for a First Opera

Los Angeles
Williams Auditorium, Getty Center
10/06/2000 -  October 7 & 8, 2000
Jacopo Peri: Euridice (1600)
Ellen Hargis (La Tragedia/Dafne/Prosperina), William Hite (Orfeo), Christine Abraham (Euridice/Venere), Curtis Streetman (Plutone), Nils Brown (Arcetro/Dietà d’inferno), Paul Cummings (Aminta/Radamante), Steven Grim (Pastore/Caronte)
Musica Angelica
Andrew Lawrence-King (conductor)

Long Beach Opera (LBO) remains the most innovative opera company in Southern California. Operating within limited budgets for 21 years, LBO’s experimental, often illuminating stylistic approaches to a wide range of operas are aimed at opera lovers who dote on the cutting edge. True to form, in LBO’s new production of Jacopo Peri's Euridice, there were things both pleasing and odd.

The pleasure came from the charm and authentic innocence of the production, the simple but haunting staging, the engaging if variable quality of the singing, and the superb sounds coming from Musica Angelica and Andrew Lawrence-King in the pit. The oddity was trying to figure out why, for an opera that was first performed on a lavish Florentine stage to celebrate the marriage of a Medici princess to the King of France, the equally imperial Getty Center did not provide one of the many settings it has at its disposal that are equivalent to the Pitti Palace in Florence, where the opera was premiered on October 6, 1600, instead of putting the performance in its handsome but antiseptic Williams auditorium.

Given the setting and Darcy Scanlin’s richly suggestive if minimalist scenery, director Isabel Milenski put forth a psychologically sound re-interpretation of the Orpheus myth, relocated to what seemed a modern-day Florence with Orpheus a rock star and the nymphs and sheepherders starlets and swells, which focused on the ambiguous nature of the relationship between the two lovers and the probably inevitable disappointment of reality after Euridice’s rescue.

The singers were a varied lot. Only Ellen Hargis was truly superb (in an incandescently soft and gentle way), but William Hite and Christine Abraham as the star-crossed lovers sang well enough, and Curtis Streetman as Plutone and Nils Brown as Arcetro rose to the occasion with performances that blended fine singing with ardent acting.

The band of harps, organs, lutes, gambas, winds and assorted other period instruments under Andrew Lawrence-King’s direction were truly magnificent, providing color, texture and dramatic punctuation when needed. A pity, in fact, that they did not play a larger role in moving the action along, but after all this was just the first opera to “survive complete,” as Tim Carter’s extensive notes, provided in the October issue of Southern California Early Music News, made clear.

All in all, Euridice isn’t bad for a first opera, and the sold-out audience was fortunate in seeing a performance that succeeded in capturing something of the emotional power it must had in Florence 400 years ago. As I left the grounds of the immense Getty estate, I saw enough couples locked in amorous embrace to know that Jacopo Peri’s music, and Ottavio Rinuccini’s words, had achieved their desired effect.

Laurence Vittes



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