Photo by Chelsea Rowe

PALO ALTO, CA â?? Orfeo ed Euridice, West Bay Opera

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Opera News Online May 2009 , vol 73 , no.11 Although it took 247 years for Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice to reach Palo Alto, it was worth the wait. The West Bay Opera audience had every reason to cheer. The care and imagination that company general director/conductor José Luis Moscovich and stage director José Maria Condemi lavished on their ostensibly low-budget production made for a marvelous evening of theater and music. Set and video designer Jean-François Revon worked closely with lighting designer Robert Ted Anderson and costumer Maria Crush to create magic from simple sets. The key was the lighting: brilliant colors and oft-changing patterns projected on simple curved partitions and backdrops made the journey through the Underworld and out again visually captivating. Another innovation was the use of every inch of the Lucie Stern Auditorium's backstage, at one point extending the set way beyond the back curtain to depict Euridice's entrance from another plane. Seen on opening night, February 20, the production managed to balance Gluck's rather static musical tableaux with constant movement. Between Amore's entrance on a balloon-festooned bicycle, sporting a pink tutu, ridiculous pigtails and a leather "AMORE" backpack, and the highly effective choreography of Yannis Adoniou's five-member KUNST-STOFF Dance Company, attention was diverted as much by the visuals as by the high quality of the singing. In Sarah Barber (Orfeo), Moscovich presented a rich-voiced, imaginative artist who, with androgynous slicked-back hair and baggy clothes, actually looked the part. Tall, strong and capable of holding her own in a balletic pas de deux, the mezzo was a major find. Only in striving for extra pathos in "Che faro senza Euridice" did she push her voice beyond its limits. Soprano Maria Alu (Eurydice), making her WBO debut, proved lovely in voice and appearance. That she could move gracefully in ballet slippers and interact with KUNST-STOFF's dancers made her ideal for a production in which the line between singer and dancer was intentionally blurred. Soprano Shawnette Sulker was a joy as Amore. Although her voice shines most in the upper range â?? Olympia, Oscar, Adele and the Queen of the Night are among her roles â??  her innate joie de vivre carried the day. While the beautiful singing from eighteen choristers was not a surprise, their ability to interact seamlessly with the dancers was. Condemi and Adoniou worked wonders in transforming their former ragtag appearance into something vital (although he could do only so much with the plethora of larger-bodied older men). At least one of the three first violinists made far too many intonation slips, but the delightful winds at the start of "Che puro ciel! Che chiaro sol!" more than made amends. JASON VICTOR SERINUS