Orpheus and Eurydice

Two weeks ago, my dad asked me whether I would like to go see a play. I had just auditioned for The Secret Garden at my school (I got cast as a Reader, which seemed like a fairly exciting role, but I decided not to accept it, as I wanted to play Ultimate Frisbee), and was well into both my Stagecraft and Modern Mythology in American Film, so I had a lot of ideas about myth in theater that I wanted to think about in a complete context. He had found two productions: Red at the Seattle Repertory Theater and Orpheus and Eurydice at the Seattle Opera. My grandpa had gone to see Red, and had found it very abstract, so we decided to go see Orpheus and Eurydice. Being based on an Ancient Greek myth, we were sure it would have elements from the Hero’s Journey, which I have been applying to virtually every movie I’ve seen in the past two months. Thus, in the hour before the show, we thought through the synopsis and connected parts of it to each stage of the Hero’s Journey. Orpheus’ Ordinary World involves Eurydice. This isn’t really shown in the opera, as it starts with Orpheus and his friends mourning Eurydice. This acts as Orpheus’ initial Call to Adventure, which he Refuses in favor of mourning Eurydice (he doesn’t realize he can do anything else about it). This changes when he Meets the Mentor: Amore (Love). She tells him that he can save Eurydice by venturing into the Underworld, but cannot look at her on the way back. This immediately pushes Orpheus to Cross the Threshold, literally, into the Underworld. The Tests, Allies, and Enemies stage is virtually skipped, as it is auxiliary to the more significant stages. Orpheus’ Approach to his ordeal, however, is highlighted by a short dance piece by the Furies, which I found thoroughly impressive. The faces of the many furies were hidden, but just before they began their dance within their large shirt, they would show their faces. The Ordeal, of course, is the discourse between Orpheus and the Furies. He must prove to them with music that he deserves to enter the Elysian Fields and rescue Eurydice. The Reward stage is highlighted in a very interesting, but greatly extended dance routine by the inhabitants of the Elysian Fields. They’re shown for quite a while before either Eurydice or Orpheus enter. Once they both meet, they do celebrate and communicate their love, but it doesn’t last long, as Eurydice realizes that Orpheus isn’t looking at her. Of course, at this point, the intermission begins, as the set that is the basis for the next scene is absolutely amazing. Interestingly enough, this set wasn’t extremely intricate. Other than the beautiful, twisted and gigantic tree suspended from the left (it would later be raised to show a transition), the stage was completely empty. The Road Back is Orpheus’ journey back to Earth with Eurydice. Of course, it is plagued with conflict because Eurydice is angered by Orpheus’ refusal to look at her. Though Orpheus attempts in vain to tell her that if he looks at her, she will die again, she continues to wail. Eventually, Orpheus is so tormented by her insults and threats that he looks at her anyway. She is immediately pleased, and reconciles her insults, but also dies. Orpheus returns to his state of mourning. Nevertheless, the remain a hero, Orpheus must Return with an Elixir (Eurydice). Thus, the second-to-last stage he passes through is a resurrection. Generally, this is resurrection of the hero himself, but in Orpheus and Eurydice, this is a resurrection of Eurydice by Amore, with the basis of Love. This, ultimately, is the elixir that Orpheus returns to the Ordinary World with: a knowledge of the power of love, which he can teach to the rest of the world. This is the moral of the opera.
One of the significant parts of the opera that I thought about a lot was the segment in the Elysian Fields. Before I continue, I want to note that this edition I saw was the French adaption by Cristoph Willibald Gluck in 1774, titled Orpheé et Eurydice. The original opera was written by Gluck 12 years earlier in 1762, but in Italian. It was titled Orfeo ed Euridice. The significant change was that the French edition contained a good deal more singing and dancing. However, I want to point out the significance of the way the characters in the Elysian Fields act in French theology. Of course, Orpheus and Eurydice is based on a Greek myth, but the French idea of heaven being a place where carnal desires that were forbidden during Earthly life could be expressed seems to characterize the portrayal of the Elysian Fields. The dance routine that occurs is a “couples dance,” and seems to, though perhaps not portray sex, portray love. Thus, it illustrates the heavenly attribute of the power of love that Orpheus brings his people, and shows a French idea of heaven.
Overall, Orpheus and Eurydice was an excellent show, and truly made me excited to see more operas.


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