Arts & Entertainment

Lyric Opera Hosts Joffery Ballet in Modern Day Production of “Orphée et Eurydice”

Todd Rosenberg PhotographyThe Joffrey Ballet (left) collaborated onstage with Dmitry Korchak (Orpheus) and other members of the cast during the production of "Orphee et Eurydice."

Sweeping movements and flourishing melodies graced the stage of the Lyric Opera House Oct. 6 as members of Chicago’s Lyric Opera and the Joffrey Ballet collaborated in the highly anticipated modern-day dramatization of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Orphée et Eurydice.”

This production of “Orphée et Eurydice” is a modernized, French take on the classic Greek myth.

Orpheus, the son of god Apollo, is a musician who falls deeply in love with a woman named Eurydice. Following the death of Eurydice, Orpheus ventures into Hades to find her. With the help of the gods, Orpheus and Eurydice are reunited, only to be separated again as they both prove to impatient and unwilling to follow the gods wishes. The myth ends in Orpheus’s demise, contrary to Gluck’s adaptation.

The Lyric Opera’s production of “Orphée et Eurydice” ran from Sept. 23-Oct. 15. The performance marked the beginning of the Lyric Opera’s hosting of the Joffrey Ballet as part of a new partnership. The Joffrey Ballet will become the resident company at the Lyric Opera House for the 2020/2021 Season according to an announcement made by Lyric on Sept. 22.

The Lyric Opera runs a program called NEXT, which allows full time undergraduate and graduate students access to significantly discounted tickets to their shows.  The NEXT program offered two nights for “Orphée et Eurydice.”

The story opens with young choreographer Orphée, played by Dmitry Korchak, who, following the tragic death of his wife, prima ballerina Euridice, played by Andriana Chuchman, grieves the loss of the love of his life. The divine gods sympathize with Orphée and offer to guide him on a journey through the underworld to reunite with his wife on one condition: he must not look at her upon their meeting in Hades.

Upon his arrival to the underworld, Orphée is unable to resist the temptation to lay his eyes on his beloved and is prevented from ever being with her again. Because of this, Orphée learns to accept his wife’s death as irreversible as she lives on forever in his heart and choreography.

The Lyric Opera House holds pre-show talks an hour before the show is scheduled to start which give a preview of the show, composer and music. Buch said he considers Gluck’s composition to be the archetypal Orpheus opera as he gave a pre-show talk before the show itself. Gluck’s work overshadowed his contemporaries for his notable contribution to the development of opera, Buch said.

Gluck is the first to integrate ballet dance into the scenes of “Orphée et Eurydice,” opposing the distinct separation of dance and song in past operas. Gluck composed soft and vulnerable music for his dancers, which Buch characterized as strikingly unsettling with a sense of “noble simplicity.”

“Opera was simply not the same after Gluck,” Buch said.

The combination of dance and plot-based song in “Orphée et Eurydice” made for dynamic scenes in John Neumeier’s adaptation.

Neumeier served as the visionary of Lyric’s interpretation of Gluck’s work. He performed duties as director, choreographer, set, costume and lighting designer, setting the stage for a production that’s both freshly abstract and jarringly relevant.

Neumeier’s modern costuming and set design created a present-day scene relatable to audiences. Eurydice (Andriana Chuchman) dies in a car crash, and the audience hears and sees the incident when a crushed and smoking red Mini Cooper rolls onstage. Likewise, Orphée is informed of his wife’s death by phone call. The default Apple ringtone plays on stage as Orphée (Dmitry Korchak) pulls an iPhone out of his pocket, presenting a distinctly commonplace situation to the audience.

Neumeier’s interpretation of earth and the underworld is an intentional departure from more traditional adaptations of classical myth. It’s difficult to understand if he purposefully makes these two worlds feel so notably distinct.

The 21st century adaptation of the present world in Neumeier’s adaptation juxtaposes the simplicity of the futuristic set design of the underworld. Large glass cubes traveled around the stage moved by dancers, creating new shapes, textures and reflective elements.

“Orphée et Euridice” explores the human themes of suffering and desire for the unattainable. The audience follows Orphée as he conquers a fear of grief and learns to triumph the mental burden of loss.  

Orphée’s emotions as he navigates this underworld radiate through the synergy of Korchak’s impassioned vocals and the movement and costume of the Joffrey Ballet dancers.

Korchak, named one of the top vocalists of his time in the Lyric Opera’s biography (published in the show’s program), creates a link between his grief and the crowd as he sings his heart out for his love. However, Chuchman lacks the same passion. This disparity among performers could be because Eurydice’s role demands less stage time. She connects less with the audience.

Dancers made their debut on stage in traditional ballet form, exhibiting classic conventions while practicing at the barre. Fans of ballet will recognize this as a realistic interpretation of the world of dance.

As Orphée begins his descent into the underworld, the dance begins to foil itself. The modern movements of the company contradicts the grace from their previously poised style with the intensity of female deities of vengeance known as “furies.”

The ballet evokes emotion as dancers navigate the stage.

The Joffrey Ballet dancers alone made the show worth seeing. Their shift from conventional form to jarring, emotion-filled movement drove the plot just as much, if not more, than the singing itself.  

Students can sign up for NEXT on the Lyric Opera website, www.lyricopera.org, where they will be notified of student nights for upcoming shows. They can look forward to discounts on the nights of Oct. 19 and Nov. 3, for Lyric’s performance of “Rigoletto,” a story of a jester seeking revenge for his daughter.

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