Review: What the Hades – the Met Brings Back Morris's Lovely ORFEO with Costanzo

Under Jackson’s Baton, Gluck’s Score Shines in an Unusual Production

By: May. 18, 2024
Review: What the Hades – the Met Brings Back Morris's Lovely ORFEO with Costanzo
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Considering all the productions in the Met’s repertoire that have been conceived (or, perhaps more justly, concocted) by directors from other media who don’t seem to understand or like opera, Mark Morris is a gem. So is his concept for Gluck’s ORFEO ED EURIDICE, the myth of a man who is permitted to go to the land of the dead to retrieve his adored wife.

It’s true that the opera plays to Morris's strengths—as a great choreographer—but the success of the revival that opened the other night with countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo and soprano Ying Fang in the title roles, lies more than in its wonderful dancing.

“It’s the music, stupid,” to paraphrase a slogan from the ‘80s. And smart singers are aware that they have to bring life to the score. Costanzo is one of those singers—one of those few singers—who can do justice a role even when they’re not necessarily at their best vocally, which was true the other night. Lucky for that, considering that the revival was likely done specifically for him and the music falls clearly on his shoulders in this opera.

Of course there are two other roles, though they only get enough music in the under-two-hour piece to wish there was more of them. The luscious-sounding soprano Fang as his beloved wife and the debuting Elena Villalon the adorable Amor (ie, Love) did fine work, but in order for the performance to thrive, the score must have its Orfeo.

And flourish it did. It was exciting to see Costanzo’s dedication to bringing out all the nuances of the role, both musically and dramatically. (He’s a clever artist; it was amazing to see him do all three Wise Men in the concert version of John Adams's EL NINO last winter, which took three countertenors to do at the Met.) The two sopranos did their bit, too.

So this ORFEO added up to more than the sum of its parts, thanks to the principals, the chorus (under Donald Palumbo) being used wisely and well, and the orchestra’s responsiveness to conductor J. David Jackson, who was a last-minute pinch-hitter, with Jonathan C. Kelly on harpsichord.  

Add all of that to the scenic design by Allen Moyer (the tiers of chorus was an ingenious touch), with lighting by James F. Ingalls and costumes by Isaac Mizrahi (for the soloists, but particularly for the chorus). Oh, yes: Director Morris’s wonderful choreography, and the dancers who performed it, was a pleasure.

Photo: Anthony Roth Costanzo as Orfeo

Photo: Ken Howard/Met Opera

ORFEO ED EURIDICE will be performed through the matinee on June 8. For more information and tickets, see the Met’s website.


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