GLUCK

Try as they might, not even the assembled forces of the Music Center Opera
could obliterate the radiant beauties of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice.” The
question must be raised, therefore: why did they even try?
The production, which opened on Wednesday night and runs for three more
performances, was brought in from Santa Fe, where it was staged last summer.
There are grand mountain vistas at Santa Fe’s outdoor opera house, which might
have taken an observer’s mind off the ugliness of Steven Rubin’s set, but the
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion offers no such distraction. We face the mess on
stage straight on. the creaky revolving panels with their artsy-craftsy-glitzy
projections, the shaky shadow projections, the drab lighting.
We try to keep from laughing at the dancing — Kimi Okada’s choreography
perpetrated by the nine members of San Francisco’s Oberlin Dance Company —
with no great success. The hootchy-kootch of the denizens of Hades is bad
enough; hell, by Okada’s standards, is somewhere close to Las Vegas. The crowd
in the Elysian Fields, on the other hand, all in virginal white, brings back
memories of Greek Day at the Weedhaven Laughing Academy.
Yet the music is honorably treated, and this makes the evening at least
tolerable, and often more. Marilyn Horne, it comes as no news, owns the role
of Orpheus for this generation. Perhaps the voice has lost some of its plummy
resonance; perhaps there are even hints now and then of a faltering
marksmanship (always, however, corrected within a note or two). But the
sublime musicianship remains intact, the absolute rhythmic accuracy, those
urgent, tragic tones of hers that simply disarm all resistance, most of all in
that great scene of the taming of the furies.
The Euridice of Benita Valente is almost as good. This supremely intelligent
singer, her sweet, limpid soprano still a marvel after three decades of noble
use, was as always a joy to hear. She had been given some silly stage business
early on, weaving and bobbing to touch hands with dancers, and she is not the
most graceful of actresses. What she does, however — sing a classic line with
clarity and conviction — she did once again on this occasion. As the Love-
Goddess we had the delicious small bundle of a Tracy Dahl (last season’s
Euridice, if anyone has the misfortune to remember the company’s otherwise
disgraceful venture into the Offenbach “Orpheus”), done up as a sort of
Spaceman-Cupid.
Randall Behr conducted an unexceptionable performance, with the brass nicely
brassy for the Hades scenes. The version used was basically that prepared by
Hector Berlioz, itself a hodge-podge of parts from Gluck’s several versions,
with an added bravura aria (plus cadenza) at the end of Act One that violates
all of Gluck’s own principles about not pandering to singers’ show-off needs.
Oh well, if Gluck had had Marilyn Horne to conjure with, he’d probably never
have made those rules.
THE FACTS:
What: The Music Center Opera Company’s production of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed
Euridice.”
Starring: Marilyn Horne as Orfeo; Benita Valente as Euridice; Benita Valente
as Amor.
Behind the Scenes: Randall Behr, conductor; Lamont Johnson, director; Steven
Rubin, designer; Kimi Okada, chorographer.
Where: Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 135 N. Grand Ave. in downtown.
When: 8 p.m., Saturday, 10/9, 10/14.
Tickets: $10-$75; information: 213 480–3232, or 213 972-7219.