Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

Established 1874.

The Oberlin Review

L’Orfeo Brings New Life to Timeless Tale

Abe Frato
Voice majors and dancers collaborate on stage to present Monteverdi’s opera.

The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the most retold in history. Audiences may recognize more contemporary adaptations such as Hadestown on Broadway, but few may be familiar with the opera adaptation L’Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi. Dating back to 1607, it is one of the oldest operas still performed. This Thursday, Oberlin Opera Theater will bring the classic tale to life.

The opera tells the story of Orfeo who, after his bride Euridice dies on their wedding day, descends to the underworld to retrieve her soul. But there’s one catch: he cannot turn to look at her as she follows him back to earth.

“I think that the idea of doubting a relationship is universal,” Visiting Assistant Director of Opera Theater Stephanie Havey, the show’s director, said. “I mean, Orpheus can’t look back to see if she’s there. He has to trust completely that she’s following him. I think that idea of trust and doubt is universal. What is one willing to do for love? He loses his wife on their wedding day and says, ‘I’ll go to hell and back’ and he literally does that. There’s something heroic about the character that we all admire, but there’s also something really human about being filled with fear and doubt. In this version of the story in particular, those emotions are really addressed — they can be the downfall for someone who would otherwise be very heroic.”

However, Havey doesn’t plan on presenting a traditional production of L’Orfeo. There will be no togas or olive-leaf crowns. Instead, this production opts for evening gowns and gothic veils, taking a more psychological look into the mind of its protagonist in order to create something that student attendees can identify with. 

“We started talking about what could be a modern day equivalent for his magical lyre,” Havey said. “In the story, it is something that he uses to subdue other people. So we sort of put in a replacement for that; he would have a weapon — or in this case a golden gun. That’s something that he puts a lot of faith and a lot of his identity into, it kind of becomes a replacement for ego. His ego [is] held in this object that gives him a false sense of power, and he wields it to subdue these people. He flashes it to get what he wants, but in the end, he realizes that there is no real power in this gun.”

Other contemporary elements include a colossal moving chandelier, a smoke-emitting staircase to the underworld, and a large spiral tower that houses the dead Eurydice. The show also contains quite a bit of dancing, the result of a collaboration with Assistant Professor of Dance Holly Handman-Lopez. 

 Despite its contemporary staging, the show maintains its early Baroque score — a stark contrast to last semester’s Albert Herring. In order to maintain authenticity of sound, the orchestra is composed of many historical instruments. Faculty from the Historical Performance program join forces with student instrumentalists to bring the score to life with a harpsichord, lutes, harps, and even a sackbut — an early form of trombone. 

Christian Capocaccia, the visiting conductor for L’Orfeo, described Monteverdi’s music as “an incredible masterpiece.”

“He reaches a certain level of dramatic storytelling that fits the modern public,” Capocaccia said. “He was a real genius. Monteverdi manages to make one word [into] one line — it doesn’t need anything else. Nowadays, it’s becoming more and more [common] to pack a ton of different stimuli in order to attract the attention of people. But what happens [in this score] is so full of meaning that if you pay attention, it takes you in a universe of emotions.”

Conservatory third-year Christopher Leimgruber, one of the performers portraying the titular role, echoes this sentiment. 

“Baroque notation is entirely bizarre, and the style features a lot of intricate ornamentation,” Leimgruber said. “It’s unlike anything I’ve really sung before, but the result is so emotive and visceral. Doing a modern adaptation of one of the oldest operas is interesting, but I think that Havey’s vision is very compelling, and I think Oberlin students will really enjoy seeing it.”

Boasting a talented cast, intricate staging, inventive sets, and historical orchestration, L’Orfeo promises to bring new life to an ancient story and the Oberlin Opera Theater Program. The show runs Thursday, March 14 through Sunday, March 17 in Hall Auditorium.

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