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Pictured: Andriana Chuchman and dancers from the Joffrey Ballet. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.
By Elizabeth Ellis
It can be tricky at best to try to bring your loved one back from the dead. In Anthony Minghella’s charming and moving 1990 romantic comedy Truly Madly Deeply, Nina (Juliet Stevenson), devastated after the death of her lover, Jamie (Alan Rickman) finds a second chance with him after he amazingly reappears in corporeal form in their home. Jamie’s not exactly the same, however: he’s terribly cold all the time, and he invites his other dead friends into Nina’s home to watch videos all day and night. Eventually, Nina realizes that she has to move on with her life, and she lets Jamie go, with love.
This ancient tale of the attempt to bring love back from the afterlife forms the basis of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Christoph Willibald Gluck’s 18th century opera, given a stunningly beautiful interpretation by director John Neumeier and a joint effort from the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Joffrey Ballet Chicago. Whether you see this production as a ballet with vocal music or an opera with dance, it has created an admirable standard for future interdisciplinary artistic collaborations.
Neumeier has updated the basic tale by integrating the ballet into the story. Choreographer Orpheus (the fantastic Russian tenor, Dmitry Korchak, in his Lyric Opera debut) and his wife Eurydice (Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman, gorgeous in both voice and interpretation), the dance company’s diva, enjoy a passionate and tempestuous relationship. After a fight at rehearsal, Eurydice drives off in anger and perishes in a car crash. Distraught and inconsolable, Orpheus, aided by his dance assistant, Amour (the wonderful and gamine soprano, Lauren Snouffer) faces the Furies of the underworld with a desperate request to bring Eurydice back to life. The Furies choose to grant Orpheus’ wish, but only on the condition that he not look upon Eurydice until they are reunited on earth, and keep this promise secret. Orpheus reluctantly agrees, but after Eurydice appears to him, she petulantly demands to know why he won’t look at her. Orpheus eventually gives in to his desire and loses Eurydice once again. Amour sees Orpheus grief-stricken again, intervenes with the gods to bring Eurydice back to earth, and the two lovers are finally and happily reunited.
The look of this production, with sets, lighting, and costumes all designed by Neumeier, has a sleek and minimalist feel that contrasts well with the passion displayed by the performers. Orpheus’ home is a slice of shades of gray, simply furnished with a bed; Hades is dark and beautiful and foreboding; Elysium is suggested by pale and rotating set pieces that bring to mind a modern beachfront mansion; and many of the dancers’ costumes suggest the clean lines and soft neutrals of clothing in a J. Crew catalog.The
The role of Orpheus in this 1774 version of ORPHÉE ET EURYDICE is notoriously difficult for most tenors, and Korchak gives a soaring and nuanced performance. Chuchman’s glorious soprano is matched by her graceful stage presence, and Snouffer’s winning Amour lights up the stage every time she appears. The Lyric singers and musicians provide a beautiful foundation to the onstage players, and the Joffrey dancers perfectly embody the many otherworldly spirits. Neumeier’s strikingly moving choreography is at once classic and fresh, appealing to both dance aficionados and novices alike.
Many supporters of the arts place the opera and the ballet low on their lists of preferred activities, seeing them as too highbrow, too inaccessible, too fancy for simpler tastes. With the familiar elements of love, loss, heartbreak, and reunion, this ORPHÉE ET EURYDICE is one of those unique and stellar productions that can expand old thoughts, change minds, and create new audiences.
ORPHÉE ET EURYDICE runs through October 15th. For more information visit lyricopera.org.