Costanzo makes a memorable Miami debut in FGO’s “Orfeo”

By Lawrence Budmen

Anthony Roth Costanzo stars in Florida Grand Opera's "Orfeo ed Euridice." Photo: Chris Kakol

Anthony Roth Costanzo stars in Florida Grand Opera’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.” Photo: Chris Kakol

Christoph Gluck’s historic opera Orfeo ed Euridice falls between the formal conventions of Baroque opera and the integration of music and drama that Mozart  would later achieve in his stage works. 

Staging this work for a 21st-century audience can be problematic but Florida Grand Opera’s production, which opened Saturday night at the Arsht Center in Miami, largely succeeds through a fusion of minimalist sets, striking stage tableaux and a first-rate cast. In a star turn, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo  dominated the stage, giving a memorable vocal and dramatic performance as Orfeo.

The legend of the minstrel Orpheus has provided the basis for numerous theatrical, operatic, cinematic and dance works. After the death of his beloved wife Euridice, the gods allow him to descend into the underworld to return his wife to the land of the living but there is one caveat. He must not look at her during his journey or she will die (again). Euridice’s despair at his seeming to ignore her leads Orpheus to break his vow not to gaze at his wife and she dies as they embrace. Gluck appended a happy ending as the goddess of love Amor takes pity on Orpheus and brings Euridice back to life amid general celebration.

Gluck’s setting abounds with noble and eloquent arias and colorful ballet music. FGO is presenting the original 1762 version of the opera (which loses the famous “Dance of the Blessed Spirits”) but lasts a compact two hours with one intermission. 

The production properly revolves around Costanzo and he more than lives up to his acclaim and advance publicity. His theatricality rivets attention, even when he stands perfectly still and quiet on stage. Costanzo cut a loving and anguished figure as the kind-hearted minstrel and his vocalism was extraordinary. 

Unlike some countertenors with pinched, limited ranges, his voice is large and voluptuous. Costanzo’s trills and ornaments were assayed with spot-on accuracy in a voice that is superbly controlled without breaks between registers. 

His plea to the furies to let him pass through Hades was deeply moving. “A mi amada” and “Che faro senza Euridice” were rendered with great emotion and depth of feeling. Costanzo sang the final stanza of the latter aria very softly, following Euridice’s death after his fatal glance, and the effect was all the more heartbreaking. The aria stopped the show with a well-deserved prolonged ovation. He also proved an agile dancer in the production’s integrated ballet sequences.

Originally scheduled to sing the role of Euridice, soprano Eglise Gutiérrez withdrew from the production by mutual consent on Friday. Jessica E. Jones, who was scheduled to sing Euridice in the production’s second cast, took her place opening night and will now sing all the remaining dates.

Jones, a member of FGO’s young artist studio, is in no way a letdown. She projected real chemistry with Costanzo in their tense scene as Euridice’s joy at being reunited with her husband turns to anger at his seeming aloofness and refusal to look at her. Jones’s attractive timbre and wonderfully colored middle register generated vocal sparks. In a situation of intense pressure, this talented soprano delivered an outstanding musical and dramatic portrayal. 

Adorned in a quasi-hoop skirt with angelic wings, Evan Kardon (also an FGO young artist) was a perky Amor with the light soubrette soprano and penetrating high notes to match.

Conductor Anthony Barrese led the overture with plenty of vigor, drawing spirited playing utilizing limited vibrato. He emphasized the score’s drama, giving equal weight to the Furies’ angular gestures and Orfeo’s pathos. Under director Katherine Kozak, the chorus’s finely nuanced dynamics gave strong expression to the furies, shades and Orfeo’s followers. The final joyous ensemble was sung with voluminous corporate strength.

Director-choreographer Keturah Stickann’s production abounds in memorable stage images. The lifeless Euridice’s body being strewn with flowers by candlelight, the furies’ synchronized menace in red and black, and the serene contentment of the shades in the Elysian Fields all registered in strong, almost cinematic fashion. Stickann keeps the drama at forward pitch and seamlessly integrated the music and dance. 

There is more than a whiff of Mark Morris in the dancers’ rapid leaps across the stage during the overture and the final suite of dances becomes an eye-filling battle over Orfeo’s lyre, leading to the festive return of the reunited couple. Ten members of Dimensions Dance Theatre, under the direction of former Miami City Ballet principal dancers Jennifer Kronenberg and Carlos Guerra, brought boundless athleticism and vibrancy to Stickann’s demanding choreography.

Phillip Lienau and Maya Linke’s unit set of a tree trunk, rock and a hill of earth in various configurations was an effective backdrop for earth, heaven and the underworld. Heidi Zamora’s multihued costumes offered a postmodern mix of ancient and contemporary: mixed glamour (for Euridice) with formality and a touch of wit, enhanced by Lucas Krech’s beautifully detailed lighting.

There are seven remaining performances of this effective fusion of music, drama and dance, which forms a unique landmark in the history of FGO’s repertoire.

Florida Grand Opera repeats Orfeo ed Euridice  2 p.m. Sunday and 8 p.m. Tuesday, Friday and Saturday at the Arsht Center in Miami and 7:30 p.m. March 29 and 31 at the Broward Center in Fort Lauderdale. Lindsay Ammann sings Orfeo on Sunday and Friday.; 800-741-1010.

Posted in Performances

2 Responses to “Costanzo makes a memorable Miami debut in FGO’s “Orfeo””

  1. Posted Mar 21, 2018 at 8:32 am by Tony Saiz

    I wish we had seen this version!
    We saw the matinee version and have to tell you, I was not impressed.

  2. Posted Mar 21, 2018 at 1:52 pm by John Aden

    Attended the Sunday afternoon performance. Staging,chorus and orchestra were fine but the Orfeo had one of the oddest, most off-putting voices I have ever heard although she was a very good actor(ress). Too bad they didn’t give the complete opera as I am used to more of Gluck’s wonderful ballet music.

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