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BWW Review: University of Maryland Explores the Underworld in THE ORPHEUS ADVENTURE

The Maryland Opera Studio at the University of Maryland's School of Music is a two-year program for graduate students in Opera Performance. Their ambitious The Orpheus Adventure is a gorgeous endeavor between the School of Music, along with the Theater and Dance Departments.

The first half of the performance was Christoph Wilibald Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. Gluck's opus first premiered in 1762 and traditionally casts the Greek prophet in a "pants role". At the Friday evening performance Orfeo was played convincingly by mezzo-soprano Jenny Anne Flory. Ms. Flory has a good navigation of Gluck's challenging music and does a fine job with the emotional connection of Orfeo's journey. As Euridice, soprano Alexis Aimé has a beautiful voice that resonates soundly in the theater over the equally gorgeous orchestra. Additionally, Esther Maureen Kelly as the goddess of love, Amore is beautiful and cunning in her performance. UMD Faculty member Adriane Fang's choreography is stunning as her dancers (Chelsea Brown, Stacey Carlson, Christine Hands, Christina O'Brien, Shawn Stone, and Gabrielle Welsh) further the story along with their masterful technique.

The second part is the more famous Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach. The second act is much stronger than the first, but that is arguably due to it being a more superior work. Among the extremely talent group of singers is soprano Amanda Baker as Eurydice and baritone Tshegofatso Moeng as Jupiter. Ms. Baker has a color to her voice that demands attention when she is singing and can hold the audience in awe. Likewise, Mr. Moeng's rich voice and strong presence is a good anchor among the very capable cast. Additionally, Ms. Fang's choreography here, particularly in Offenbach's best known piece, "Infernal Galop". The supporting cast, James Smidt (Orpheus), Mark Wanich (Mercure), Katherine Fili (Junon), Miles Herr (Pluto), Alexis Aimé (L'Opinion Publique), Esther Maureen Kelly (Diane), Sarah Best (Vénus), and Jenny Anne Flory (Cupidon) all are remarkable in their respective roles. In addition to their strong voices, Ms. Aimé and Mr. Herr have great comedy instincts that makes them stand out.

Under the precise baton of Craig Kier and led by the always phenomenal Nick Olcott, the rest of the production is comprised of graduate design students and they were on full display is gorgeous fashion. Set designer Richard Ouellette used a simple forest setting whose branches bore a slight resemblance to a lyre, while light designer Rob Siler complimented the set with brilliant precision. Likewise, costume designer Heather C. Jackson incorporated the color elements from the set into her simple and extremely effective costumes.

The highlight of the production was seeing three departments come together and masterfully create art. By using the Greek Orpheus, told through different composer's point of views, the School of Music and the Theatre, Dance, & Performance Studies department were beautifully intertwined in this epic and gorgeous production.

The Orpheus Adventure plays through Sunday, April 15, 2017 at The Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at the University of Maryland, 8270 Alumni Drive, College Park, MD 20742. For tickets, visit the website or call 301-402-ARTS (2787).

Photo Credit: Geoff Sheil

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