(Previous section here.)
But Orfeo has not found a possum. I was thinking about this question a little more, and it occurs to me that Orfeo’s possum is probably related to the way the production often gives him a double, or has him switch costumes in such a way as to indicate that whatever it is he’s experiencing is not necessarily real.
The most striking of these costume changes is when he puts on a black formal suit coat for both “misero giovane!” and “trionfi Amore” and thus resembles the chorus, who are lined up offstage to the right. Orfeo also gets a score to sing from now and then too, as does Euridice. Amor is also doubled, but this is probably at least partially for musical reasons – the singer is a boy soprano, but the actor who plays Amore on the stage is a much smaller child. I guess they wanted both a towheaded moppet and a kid with enough skill and lungpower to sing the music. At the same time, the doubling of Amore is worked into the concept. At the end, it is the young singer and not the little dude with the ball who is lined up with Orfeo and Euridice in the final scene. The idea seems to be to underscore that the drama is taken from a myth, in the sense that this is a particular type of story with a predetermined ending – what happens to Orfeo and Euridice is as much what the gods decide as it is a function of who the two of them are. So there are gestures in this production toward both realism (contemporary setting, naturalistic acting and stage direction) and unreality (all the gestures at ‘performance,’ like the black coat and the scores, and the fact that the boy soprano takes over for the young actor at the end). All of which makes sense – after all, myths are myths and as such have a certain artificiality, but they wouldn’t have much sticking power if they didn’t have a core of accesible human feeling in them.
And there is plenty of human feeling in this. Kowalski is an impressive singer, and Gillian Webster as Euridice is no slouch either – I particularly liked the scene where Euridice is puzzled and fearful about returning to the living. (Although again, the sound quality on this DVD is such that despite these two very good performances, it’s probably not going to be anyone’s desert island Orfeo.) The impression is both intense and with all those moving reflective panels, a little strange – perhaps the entire story takes place in Orfeo’s head? He tries to rescue his dead girlfriend through music, but in the end she is indeed gone, and so is he? (With regard to the
possum wig, my guess is that it has something to do with the distinction between living Euridice and dead Euridice – was the living one even real? When Euridice reappears for the final scene, in which Orfeo considers killing himself to join her, she’s wearing the wig again.)
Finally. This version feels rather short – the whole thing clocks in at around an hour and twenty minutes, and the tempos do not feel particularly speedy. There was some grousing among Amazon reviewers about missing bits. I don’t know the opera well enough to have registered what was not there, but it appears that not everything is.