This stunningly conceived, musically vibrant Orfeo was taped at Brussels' La Monnaie in 1998. The much-lauded production later traveled to the Brooklyn Academy of Music where it was as great a success as it had been in Belgium. And indeed, anyone coming to this DVD is in for a treat, a veritable feast for both eye and ear. Choreographer/director Trisha Brown, conductor René Jacobs, and designer Roland Aeschlimann have created an ideal fusion of words, action, sight, and sound, one that never lets the viewer down and manages to tell the story in an elegant, unusual, and ultimately intensely moving manner.
The utter absence of realism in the physical production is no problem at all. The stage is bare and is dominated by a gigantic blue moon (later yellow) as backdrop; a suspended dancer moves gracefully and weightlessly in front of it as La Musica sings; the chorus (members of the Collegium Vocale) are dressed like the Trisha Brown Dancers and move about the stage with them with such comfort that they all seem part of the same family.
Brown's movements are not typical of any particular type of dance--the performers whirl and seem almost to fly. All movement is effortless and agile but at the same time remarkably clear-cut and exact. The dancers' arms create arbors for Orfeo and Euridice and they move like things in nature (all of the characters sway and use their torsos and arms with absolute grace); the opera's pastoral setting is evoked without a blade of grass. A foreboding, stage-high black structure contains Caronte, ready to take Orfeo to Hades. You watch the performance as a child would, in appreciation of something entirely new.
Orchestra and Chorus are the best to be found in any media, but there are better sung individual performances of this opera to be had on CD--one led by John Eliot Gardiner and another by René Jacobs--so this set should be seen either as an additional version or for what it is, a stunning staging of the piece with some very fine singing, and indeed, the best video version available.
Simon Keenlyside is a remarkable singing actor and proves himself lithe enough both vocally and physically to fit into this production. But he is a baritone and his dark timbre, while handsome, is not really what this music calls for. That having been said, his is a moving, intelligent portrayal and will bring few complaints. Soprano Juanita Lascarro sings La Musica and Euridice very well and she looks lovely. Graciela Odone's Messenger is properly tragic, but her voice lacks distinction. The lower voices are all fine, and more importantly, fit well into this conception of the opera. Picture and sound (16/9; choice of PCM Stereo 2.0 or 5.0 DTS) are superb; subtitles are in English, French, German, and Dutch. The CDs include a "Making of..." documentary that is fascinating and allows us to watch all of the creators creating. This is sui generis--and a fabulous entertainment.
--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen
Sound: DTS 5.0, PCM Stereo
Subtitles: Dutch, English, French, German
Special Features: Documentary "Le Dernier Chant d'Orphee"