Perhaps for the first time in the history of Christoph Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, a woman will perform as a woman in the role of Orpheus.
Gluck’s beloved opera brings to life the classic myth of Orpheus, the artistic demi-god who traveled to the underworld to reclaim his bride Eurydice, who was killed shortly after their wedding. O + E, Seattle Opera’s newest chamber production presented by the Programs and Partnerships Department, is a re-imagination of the tale that combines Gluck’s timeless score with a translated, updated English libretto. O + E features both an all-female cast of principal singers and an all-female creative team.
In many ways, musical director and librettist Lucy Tucker Yates wanted to preserve the essence of Ranieri de’ Calzabigi’s libretto because of its universal themes of love and loss—but with the role of O the creative team saw an opportunity to explore these themes through an intersectional feminist lens. Because the role of Orpheus was originally scored for a castrato, it is typically sung by a mezzo-soprano in modern productions, but she is always dressed as a man.
“Mezzos want to sing that [role], but always as a dude,” Yates said. “To my knowledge, no one has presented Gluck’s Orfeo with a woman as a woman.”
That’s exactly what the Seattle Opera is doing now, which gives the team the chance to tell the story of a marriage between two women. This was especially of interest for the team because the fear and pain of not being able to be with the person you love is at the core of Orfeo ed Euridice.
“It’s fascinating to us that on their wedding day, Euridice is taken away,” Yates said. “They haven’t gotten the chance to have a future. Women getting married at all, they have a great future to look forward to, but they don’t have a whole lot of past.”
In addition to changing pronouns and the extremely difficult task of aligning syllables of her translations with the music, Yates has adjusted the way that O and E talk about beauty. In the original libretto, Euridice can feel superficial to modern viewers because she is so focused on her external beauty. She can only be brought back to life if Orpheus avoids looking at her, which leads her to worry over whether Orpheus still finds her beautiful. The creative team wanted to find a way to still speak to physical connection while giving more depth to E’s pain and honoring the complexity of the situation.
“We had a really great discussion on, ‘What is beauty and what would you say to your loved one in this extraordinary circumstance?’” stage director Kelly Kitchens said.
With the all-female creative team, representation was an important topic of discussion behind the scenes as well as onstage. While women often make up the majority of opera audiences, creative leadership roles are still largely held by men. Kitchens and Yates hope that after seeing O + E, young women who may never have thought to aspire to these roles will realize that they have the potential to design and direct, too.
Kitchens also emphasizes that every member of the team was hired because she is an incredible artist and that there’s no reason an all-female team can’t be the most qualified team.
“These women are at the top of their field,” Kitchens said. “They are the artists I love to work with and that’s why I’m working with them.”
O + E runs June 2-10 at Seattle Opera Studios. For tickets and additional information,click here.