Monday, January 24, 2011
Ensemble Parallèle's Orphée Preview
Baritone Eugene Brancoveanu, above, is singing the title role in Philip Glass' opera Orphée next month at Herbst Theatre, a role he's reprising a decade after starring in the 2001 European premiere in Salzburg. This operatic version of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth is literally taken from the screenplay of the 1950 Jean Cocteau art film, which starred his lover Jean Marais (below).
Last week, Brancoveanu joined conductor Nicole Paiement and director Brian Staufenbiel, along with three other singers (John Duykers, Susannah Biller, and Brooke Muñoz) from an upcoming San Francisco production by Ensemble Parallèle for a musical and dramatic preview of the opera.
I watched the movie for the first time last week, and was happily surprised at how genuinely poetic the film is, and how well it's holding up to the test of time, even (or especially) with its primitive Surrealist special effects. What seems particularly audacious on Philip Glass' part is that the film already has an exquisite score by the great Georges Auric, one of "Les Six," who wrote movie music for four decades, from all of Cocteau's films to "Roman Holiday" and "Moulin Rouge." Glass' score is up to the challenge, though, and is one of his lovelier pieces, as a recent recording by the Portland Opera demonstrates. Unlike the Auric score, which is dark and moody when it's not going wild with bongo drums, Glass sounds like he's channeling Nino Rota in one of his jollier moods. This bodes well for Staufenbiel's vision of the Underworld as a Circus, whereas in the film the Underworld took place in recently bombed buildings from World War Two.
Ensemble Parallèle is an adventurous chamber opera group that has had two major successes at Yerba Buena Center recently with Lou Harrison's "Young Caesar" and a reduced-orchestra version of Berg's "Wozzeck." It should be interesting seeing what they come up with this time.