i’m ashamed to say that i have never been to the opera before seeing philip glass’s orphee last week. the opera just always seemed out of reach, so i never looked into it. when i saw that the portland opera was going to be doing one of glass’s operas, i decided it was time. and thankfully i knew who to ask to accompany me, the only other person i know that likes philip glass, morgan’s brother don. don also got us some great seats for a really good price. now the opera doesn’t seem so out of reach anymore.
this is what philip glass’s website says about orphee.
Based on Cocteau’s fascinating retelling of the Orpheus myth, Orphée, the first opera of Philip Glass’ Cocteau Trilogy, is an extended parable on the life of an artist, a poet harassed and misunderstood by peers. His success leads to the ridicule by fellow poets, ending in a creatively crippling isolation. With a renewed apprehension of his own mortality, Orphee regains his emotional strength, enabling him to ignore the trials of ordinary life, freeing him to be a poet. The poets Orphee and Cegeste, Euridice, and a mysterious Princess interact within the worlds of the living and the dead, existing in that mysterious realm that separates the two worlds. Love triumphs and thus returns Orphee and Euridice to mortal life, with no remaining consciousness of their unusual time spent between “the worlds”. The Princess has violated the laws of life and death one time too many and is banished into oblivion.
the music was pure philip glass, small repetitive tonal circles culminating in beautiful glissades mixed with delicate percussion, and intricately subtle piano work. the libretto for the opera was lifted right from cocteau’s screenplay. since i don’t have a lot of experience with opera i can’t really critique the performances. i do think that this was far from traditional opera, it seemed more like performance art. every movement and motion of the cast was choreographed, people popped in and out of the stage saying cryptic messages, and endless interpretations of the symbolism are probable. the set was also one of the characters, with two sides a mirror images. the use of mirrors and mirror imagery was the most striking part of the production, they were the portal between the worlds. watching orphee was reminiscent of watching movies of the french new wave. orphee grabs the audiences attention and doesn’t let go. i was moved by the performance, but over a week later i’m still not sure how, i still need more time with it.