Revue Centro Cultural de Bélem 2022: Orpheus

Philip Glass celebrated his 85th birthday last week, January 31, and Lisbon’s Centro Cultural de Belém joined a handful of global performances honoring the great American maverick composer with a dazzling world-class production of his first opera “Orpheus”, composed in 1991 and part of Glass’ groundbreaking trilogy of operas based on films by French poet and filmmaker Jean Cocteau.

Directed by Felipe Hirsch and conducted by conductor Pedro Neves, these performances brought together a superb all-Portuguese cast, excellently supported by the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa.

Premiered in 1993, ‘Orpheus’ was one of Glass’ surprisingly brilliant and inventive set of operas that included the adaptation of Cocteau’s ‘Enfants terribles’ and the full treatment of ‘Beauty and the Beast’. Considered experimental at the time, the triptych helped introduce sonic minimalism to the masses, expanding the possibilities of trance-inducing minimalist music beyond the abstract pulsating glow first heard by millions of people. people in the composer’s smash hit film collaboration with Godffrey Reggio in the 1980s, “Koyaanisqatsi”. ”

Ingeniously made

The source of the opera is Cocteau’s classic 1950 film “Orpheus”, which adapts the myth of Orpheus in the Underworld to contemporary post-war Paris, and the the cinematography subconsciously captures the ambient cacophony of Parisian café culture, rendered with visually rich verisimilitude, and alternates this environment with the enigmatic underworld, unearthly accessible beyond the mirrors. This design by Brazilian director Felipe Hirsch has been ingeniously realized, fully capturing the psychology and conceptual elements depicted in Cocteau’s visual narrative.

The singular set consisted of large wall-sized mirrored back panels set at a shallow angle, with dozens of white chairs on stage at all times. Reflected off the background mirrors, the reflections of the chairs and people created a multiplier and kaleidoscopic effect, allowing the audience to see the action from multiple angles while perfectly replicating the bustling rattling of cafe society and the chaos of bar brawls and street fights from the source film.

The large mirror panels also effectively concealed the mirrored doors, which, aided by strategically deployed lighting and moody scrims, allowed for efficient and almost magical appearances and disappearances of various characters entering the stage or transiting to the underworld. supernatural. By preserving the importance of mirrors as a key element, the elegant architectural sets have remained remarkably faithful to Cocteau’s source psychology, and the detailed visual texture of Cocteau’s film is hardly missed.

Portuguese stars

A brilliant all-Portuguese ensemble of terrific actor-singers has been brought together for this outing, veterans who have met the demanding challenges of this trying score with aplomb.

Baritone André Bailero has created a living theatrical psychology of this difficult characterization of Orpheus, providing a robust, resonant and authoritative tone that provided a sharp counterpoint to Eurydice’s often puzzled and reluctant character.

As Eurydice, soprano Susana Gaspar displayed equal measures of lyricism and dramatic instinct, exemplifying the essential qualities that define a great singer actress.

Soprano Carla Caramujo was equally impressive, in her delivery of the enigmatic role of the princess which catalyzes much of the plot action. Caramujo’s technical mastery in rendering this particularly taxing assignment was a singular achievement, which shows that Glass uses an atypically elevated lyrical coloratura voice to create a dramatic, layered and textured character rather than simply adding decorative vocalism to the mixed.

Young Portuguese tenor Luís Gomes displayed exceptional artistry in the multitasking role of the shrewd Heuterbise, creating a captivating incarnation of the character that almost made you forget it was a performance.

The supporting cast of Marcos Alves dos Santos as Cageste; Catia Moreso as Aglaonice; Nuno Dias as judge; Luis Rodrigues as a poet; and João Pedro Cabral as a journalist collectively embodied a superb ensemble cast, providing the essential contributions that made this gripping production a success.

Maestro Pedro Nunes conducted the Orquestra Metropolitana de Lisboa in a dynamic and beautifully flowing reading of the score, showing Nunes an energetic and easy mastery of Glass’s style of musical language from the period of the work. The ensemble’s individual instruments helped sketch out the highly focused organic narrative, an essential component of storytelling that dispels any sort of hint of the “experimental” label that was often attached to Philip Glass’s works in the 90s: as an opera, this Orpheus feels like a classic, just like Cocteau’s film.

This co-production of Centro Cultural de Belem in Lisbon and Theatro Municipal do Rio de Janeiro in Brazil was first seen in 2018 in Rio de Janeiro, and was supposed to be recreated in Portugal last year, but it was inevitably postponed. to this year due to the pandemic, and one can only hope that it will relive in the future.

James C. Tibbs