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Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

Time Event
2:19p
Metropolitan Opera: Orfeo et Euridice
On Saturday the 24th, we took in another of the Met's High Definition
simulcasts, this time of the production of Christoph von Gluck's 1762
opera, Orfeo et Euridice. In many ways, this is a small opera by modern
standards, running about an hour and a half, and with only three
principal roles, so it was pleasing to see the Met take it on, since it
is most often done these days by student companies.
However, as the Met staged it, without act breaks , it is a testing
work: the opera itself is through-composed (meaning there are no
significant breaks in the music, and all the words are sung, as opposed
to recitative) and Orfeo is on and singing for nearly the entire piece.
Famed choreographer Mark Morris was the producer, and also gave the
ballet company a lot to do, they being on and dancing for most of the
show.
The plot is the familiar story of Orpheus, who descends to the
Underworld to fetch back his bride, Euridice, who has untimely died from
a snakebite. He wins her freedom with his music, on the condition that
he not look at her until they have regained the upper world, and that he
not explain this to her. On the way up, he cannot resist her entreaties,
and looks back, at which point Euridice falls back into death. However,
Amor appears and re-raises Euridice, explaining that they both have
"suffered enough for my glory." This is a nicely arch bit showing the
cruel and arbitrary nature of the gods, but is swept away in a joyous
happy ending.
Highly regarded mezzo-soprano Stephanie Blythe filled the counter-tenor
role of Orfeo admirably, and sung faultlessly. The opera was done in
contemporary dress, which allowed the costumers to put her into a Johnny
Cash-like "man in black" outfit, augmented by thick dark side-swept hair
and guitar slung neck down across the back. Of course, Blythe does not
have Cash's cocaine-and-booze chiseled cragginess, but sings with
sufficient passion not to need it.
Coloratura Danielle Di Neise gave us the role of Euridice beautifully,
both in person and in voice, and during the "argument" of the Third Act,
matched Blythe for power and intensity. The third named role, that of
Amor, was sung by soprano Heidi Grant Murphy, who seemed to be enjoying
herself singing, as well as being lowered from the flies on cables to
make her entrance as "Amor", the god of love.
The chorus and the ballet are the only other "characters." The Opera
Chorus comments on the action in Greek style, ringing the stage as
though an audience. Each chorister had a different costume representing
the spirits of the past: I spotted everyone from Cleopatra and Joan of
Arc through Henry VII, Abraham Lincoln, Alexandre Dumas, Jimi Hendrix,
and an astronaut. (One shortcoming of the opera broadcasts, of course,
is that, while you get a magnificent view, you only get to see what the
video producer lets you see. It would have been great fun to scan my
opera glasses over the whole chorus and see how many I could
identify--.) The chorus did an admirable job, as did everyone associated
with the production.
The aforementioned hard-working ballet portrayed variously mourners,
vengeful spirits, happy spirits, and rejoicing villagers. It was
interesting to see how well Morris' extensive vocabulary of modern dance
movements could be applied to a score strongly influenced by the dance
music of the 18th Century.
Morris and Conductor James Levine were briefly interviewed as part of
the pre-show, and it was inspiring to see what enthusiasm and evident
pleasure both men took in presenting this piece, which is the oldest
opera still in the repertoire of major companies.
In our opinion, the HD simulcasts continue to be excellent value for the
money and we would recommend them for anyone interested in opera.
Upcoming shows include Lucia di Lammermoor, Feb. 7; Madama Butterfly,
Mar. 7; La Sonnambula, Mar. 21; La Cenerentola, May 9. Some local
theaters are having encore (recorded) showings on following weeknights.
More information available at
http://www.metoperafamily.org/metopera/broadcast/hd_events_next.aspx
Also, for those in the area, Danielle Di Neise will be giving a recital
at the Wisconsin Union Theater in Madison on Thursday, Feb. 19th at 8PM.

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/season/deneise.html
3:09p
Milwaukee on the Cheap
Monday, January 28th, I took a vacation day so that we could take a
break from the pervasive chill of winter. A number of Milwaukee County's
cultural or educational institutions are free admission to county
residents on Mondays, including the Mitchell Park Conservatory and the
Milwaukee Public Museum.

The recently refurbished Conservatory (a.k.a. "The Domes") is free 9AM
to noon, so that was our first stop. The Arid dome was set to seasonably
cool (but not cold) temperatures, but it was still comfortable to walk
around in and admire and wonder at the amazing gnarly shapes of the
palms, cacti, succulents, and other thorny flora of the desert climes.

The Tropical dome is always warm and moist, and provides layer upon
layer of greenery to enjoy. As always, I was struck by how much wealth
there is in the threatened tropical forests, as you can see cacao, figs,
bananas, and citrus fruits and other staples of our diet among the
orchids and the creepers.

The Show dome has changing displays, and this month was doing the
"Garden Railroad" show with large-gauge model trains running between
flowering plantings and, this year, a whimsical collection of Lego
building models.

Then, we went over to the Milwaukee Public Museum, with our particular
objective to see the newly mounted Hebior Mammoth, which the Museum has
obligingly located in its main lobby. The story of the mammoth skeleton
is an interesting one. A number of mammoth skeletons have been found
about 30 miles south of Milwaukee in rural Kenosha County, and were
excavated by Marquette University researchers in 1994. Unlike in the
movies, the bones did not go immediately to a museum, but lay in the
basement of the property owner awaiting a buyer for more than a decade.
Interest was sparked when the bones were accurately carbon-dated to
being more than 14,000 years old. This is significant because the bones
had been found "disarticulated" meaning separated, bearing cut marks
from butchery, and in company with stone tools, which showed evidence of
human activity in North America a millennium earlier than the Clovis
culture, which had previously been believed to be the earliest. In
addition, the skeleton is exceptionally complete, with 85% of its bones
present.

Donors purchased the bones for the Museum in 2007, and the articulate
cast of the impressively large skeleton has recently been put on
display, with a more detailed exhibit in the works. (In particular, I
would like to have the butchering marks pointed out: at present, there
is no guide, and I wasn't sure if I could pick them out or not.)

While there, we also went into the "Butterfly Wing" for another dose of
tropical air, and to enjoy the sight of the beautiful insects flying
free. We did not stay very long, but did linger over the Victorian
Museum exhibit, looked over a small exhibition from the Museum's coin
and currency collection, visited the Torosaur (another notable fossil)
and admired the taxiderimically mounted skin of Samson, the Milwaukee
Zoo's famous gorilla.

While downtown, we also nipped into the Milwaukee Public Library Central
Branch, and checked out several CD's not available anywhere else, which
made it a very good cultural day for us.

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