Lyric Opera of Chicago kicks off new season with Orphée et Eurydice

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THE JOFFREY BALLET company performs during “Orphee et Eurydice.” Photo by Stefany Phillips (Lyric Opera, Chicago)

One of opera’s most beautiful masterpieces, Christoph Willibald Gluck’s exquisite drama introduces us to Orpheus, the poet and musician whose every word and note communicate the most overwhelming love for his Eurydice. Refusing to accept her death, he courageously journeys to the Underworld to bring her back to life. The music reaches true heights of eloquence and emotion. Lyric presents “Orphee et Eurydice” in the Paris version, which contains thrilling ballet sequences that will come to vivid life under the direction and choreography of the legendary John Neumeier. This highly-anticipated production marks Lyric’s first collaboration with the Joffrey Ballet.

The story: Familiar from Greek myths, the plot centers on Orphée (Dmitry Korchak/Lyric debut), whose singing was so beautiful that it could charm the fierce guardians of the Underworld. Encouraged by the god of love, Amour (Lauren Snouffer), Orphée travels to Hades to bring his dead wife, Eurydice (Andriana Chuchman), back to earth.

Dance legend John Neumeier makes his Lyric debut as director, choreographer, and set/costume/lighting designer of “Orphée et Eurydice.” Considered one of the world’s leading choreographers, Neumeier is originally from Milwaukee, trained as a dancer in Chicago, and has been based in Germany for nearly 50 years; he is currently artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet.

Neumeier has made dance entirely central to the storytelling in his new production, and he debuted as a dancer at the Lyric in the 1961 world premiere of “The Harvest” (by Vittorio Giannini). This is a brand-new co-production with Los Angeles Opera and Hamburg Opera. Lyric Opera defines it as timeless tragedy propelled by a beautiful classical score and newly-created choreography. Faced with unspeakable catastrophe, what would you do to recapture love?

Ancient Greek myth in a contemporary setting, Orphée the poet and musician is reimagined as a choreographer, and his beloved Eurydice is a ballerina. This is Lyric’s first-ever collaboration with the Joffrey Ballet (43 dancers). The virtuosic singing, dancing, acting, and orchestral playing will make for a truly unforgettable emotional experience.

Gluck first wrote Orfeoed Euridice in Italian in 1762. The male lead was originally sung by a countertenor, in the same vocal range as a female mezzo-soprano. A dozen years later the composer revised the work for the Paris Opera. Aware that Parisians loved ballet, Gluck created extended dance scenes set to beautiful music. He also reset the hero’s music as high tenor, also known as tenore digrazia. (If you’ve ever heard Rossini operas “The Barber of Seville,” “Don Pas- quale,” or “Cinderella,” or Donizetti’s “The Daughter of the Regiment,” you’ve heard that gorgeous high-tenor sound.)

I loved the premise of the opera, in that Orphee loved Eurydice so much that he was willing to go to the depths of hell to save her. He had limitations on his visit, and she couldn’t really understand why he was behaving so distant, once he found her. The performance is just brimming with admiration and love between the couple, and it is made more relatable with the addition of the Joffrey Ballet company.

“The show was amazing, and included some great voices! The Joffrey Ballet being featured was a nice touch and helped to tell the beautiful and emotional love story of Orphée et Eurydice,” said Faith L. Walls, Author and Life Coach.

“Orphee et Eurydice” runs until October 15.

After the triumph of Das Rheingold in 2016/17, Lyric continues the thrilling journey through Richard Wagner’s monumental Ring cycle with Die Walküre in a brand-new production. This is the most deeply moving and romantic of all the Ring operas, and the most famous. Its riveting, devastating drama explores complex relationships between brother and sister, husband and wife, and father and daughter.

Die Walküre focuses on the conflict between Wotan, king of the gods, and his mortal son, Siegmund, who has unwittingly fallen in love with his own twin, Sieglinde, the wife of the brutish Hunding. This arouses the wrath of Wotan’s wife, Fricka (goddess of marriage), and the compassion of Wotan’s daughter, the warrior-maiden Brünnhilde. The turning point of the opera arrives when Brünnhilde disobeys her father by siding with Siegmund in the latter’s fight against Hunding. Both Siegmund and Hunding are killed, and Wotan punishes Brünnhilde. Lyric Opera’s favorite Eric Owens performs as Wotan.

This opera showcases taboo-breaking love, violated vows, deadly disobedience and fierce retribution. It is family dysfunction taken to the limits. Die Walküre is a provocative, shocking, deeply moving story inspired by Norse mythology. If you love “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” and “Game of Thrones,” come see what inspired these sagas. The Valkyries sing gloriously — and they ride flying horses.

“Sheer beauty,” “sheer humanity,” “glorious music” are among the phrases Lyric’s general director Anthony Freud uses to describe this monumental yet intimate work.

German composer Richard Wagner wrote the entire libretto and music. Die Walküre is through-composed — the music flows from one scene to the next. It’s a dramatic and musical thrill ride that you’ll never forget, with A-list Wagnerian singers who will blow you away.

Soprano Elisabet Strid and tenor Brandon Jovanovich as twins Sieglinde and Siegmund will thrill with their rapturous duet before the deadly duel with Hunding, portrayed by bass Ain Anger. (Strid and Anger will both make Lyric debuts in these performances.)

As Wotan, bass-baritone Owens gave the Millennium Park concert audience a taste of what’s to come. Nine thousand attendees listened raptly to his heart-rending farewell to favorite daughter Brünnhilde, as he put her into a trancelike sleep and encircled her with magic fire, to be penetrated only by the bravest of heroes.

The Lyric Opera House is located at 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. For more information, visit https://www.lyricopera.org/.

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