Todd Palmer and Elizabeth Futral
Photo: Long Beach Opera 2008
One thing that can be said about Long Beach Opera
, LA County’s other significant opera operation, is that whatever they may lack in organization and dependability, they make up for with spunk. Take their most recent venture, a staged version of Ricky Ian Gordon’s Orpheus and Euridice
starring Elizabeth Futral which opened on Sunday. LBO director Andreas Mitisek has been on a bit of a kick lately, staging works in unusual spots around town including a recent run of Grigori Frid’s The Diary of Anne Frank
in one of a number of parking structures. For Gordon’s Orpheus
Mitisek has chosen to exploit the water themes by staging the whole thing in an indoor swimming pool – the Belmont Olympic Pool to be exact.
It’s a crafty idea that works as you might imagine from an opera staged in a swimming pool. The audience was seated on metal bleachers with cushions but luckily, the piece ran just an hour which is about as long as one healthy human can tolerate sitting in these circumstances. Local skate punks crashed and spun and did whatever else it is they do just outside the pool throughout the performance, creating some not so pleasant accompaniment. On the plus side, though, many of the visual elements of the piece were quite splendid due to the lighting effects designed by Dan Weingarten that took maximal advantage of the aquatic surroundings.
The work itself is more of a song cycle than an actual opera and more or less covers the standard version of the Orpheus myth. The work has premiered in other settings around the country, but LBO commissioned Gordon to orchestrate the piece for a small string quartet in addition to the original piano and clarinet to flesh out the sound a little more. Futral plays a narrator and sometimes voice of Euridice. Clarinetist Todd Palmer serves as Orpheus and, like Futral, alternately performs both at poolside and in a small white boat that is moved around the pool at times by a group of four “players” who include choreographer Ken Roht. Since Futral and Palmer have an awful lot of singing and playing to do which prevents them from getting wet, there are also two “doubles” who act out the Orpheus and Euridice parts in coordination with the musical content. All of this is accompanied by an expanded version of the Denali Quartet off to the side of the pool. There are also some videos of the principals projected above the opposite bleachers where Greek-inspired statuary were hanging out around artfully draped fabric. It can all be rather pretty to look at along the way.
Unfortunately, this was not the whole story. While Futral and Palmer’s performances are admirable for their quality and commitment, the material itself doesn’t quite live up to them. Gordon’s music is pleasant, but not much more substantial than much of what you would hear in the standard-issue Broadway musical. The libretto is both obvious and at points outright silly. He also oddly elects to spend over 30 minutes on the lovers meeting, walking on the beach, giggling, and doing all the things people do in TV movies to indicate that they are in love. The non-Oxygen Network events of the story don’t really get underway until the last ten minutes or so, creating an awful lot of build up for very little pay off. Apparently Gluck knew what he was doing when he opened his short opera on the same matter with the funeral. Still, all of this did take some guts and Mitisek and his crew can’t be faulted for trying to make a glorious theatrical event out of what might otherwise be just a meager song cycle.
Labels: Opera Review 07/08