Che faro senza COC?

COC logoTonight, my last opera of the Canadian Opera Company 2010-2011 season, was my second trip into the special world of Robert Carsen’s Orfeo ed Euridice.

I didn’t talk about the visuals in my review (awhile ago) because I strive to be spoiler-free, so that I don’t ruin any special surprises in the staging.  Now that the run is ending I can safely talk about Carsen’s collaboration with designer Tobias Hoheisel.

At the opening Euridice’s body is borne by the chorus upon a bleak, flat landscape of ashes and sky.  It doesn’t get much more minimal than this:

  • The chorus in their plain black and white clothes
  • Fire burning in a pot
  • A hole in the ground

Lawrence Zazzo as Orfeo; Photo Credit: © 2011 Michael Cooper.

Orfeo, portrayed by Lawrence Zazzo, waits at her graveside, issuing the most heart-rending “Euridice” I’ve ever heard.  Clearly this is not to be the refined, rational Orfeo we usually encounter, mastering his grief in orderly verses & song, but a man so grief-stricken as to attempt suicide: prevented first by chorus members, and later by Amor him/herself.

In a world of such restraint (when we remember both the terse vocabulary of this reform opera and the minimal mise-en-scène) a tiny gesture can be powerful.  In the underworld, the dead shake off their grave-clothes like butterflies being reborn as Blessed Spirits, a moment for once matching the eloquence of Gluck’s music.  The clean images of the first scene start to resemble theology, when we see these spirits lifting pots of fire and ash.

Isabel Bayrakdarian and Michael Schade

Isabel Bayrakdarian and Michael Schade; photo credit: Michael Cooper.

Aside from Zazzo, the most impressive performance by a character was that chameleon providing the backbone for so many operas this season, namely the COC chorus.  Carsen foregrounded individual members of the chorus without fear, because they’re so strong dramatically.

The excellence that’s now becoming the COC norm has me wondering: can they live up to this high standard? Am I now permanently spoiled, expecting near-perfection every time out? and what will I do until next season?

Thankfully the CBC Radio2 are ready to satisfy my withdrawal symptoms.  Saturday May 28th we get a flashback to the COC’s winter production of The Magic Flute, starring Michael Schade, Isabel Bayrakdarian and Aline Kutan.

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