Over many centuries, the myth of Orpheus’ descent into Hades to retrieve his beloved bride, Eurydice, has inspired the works of such immortal composers as Gluck, Haydn, Liszt, Berlioz, Stravinsky and Offenbach.
But it was the operatic version of “L’Orfeo,” composed in the early 1600s by Claudio Monteverdi, that most greatly inspired Dave Hurlbert, co-director of Marigny Opera Ballet.
The resident dance company of the Marigny Opera House in New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, Marigny Opera Ballet will open its second season Friday night with “Orfeo,” Hurlbert’s adaptation of the Monteverdi piece.
“Orfeo” will run the entire weekend, through Sunday. Choreographed by Maya Taylor to an original score by Tucker Fuller, it will be played by a 13-piece orchestra, conducted by Francis Scully.
“I’d wanted to produce a version of Monteverdi’s ‘L’Orfeo’ for years,” Hurlbert said. “I made a new translation of the 1609 libretto, hoping to stage an English-language version of the original work. Last year it hit me: The Marigny Opera Ballet could dance the opera, at least the story, and so I streamlined the libretto into a two-act scenario for ballet.”
The next step for Hurlbert was to put together a team to bring his adaptation of “Orfeo” to life onstage.
He commissioned Fuller “to create a new instrumental score for the ballet, to match the scenario,” and selected Taylor, the company’s rehearsal director, to choreograph the production.
C. Robert Holloway, with Hollywood credits, was brought in to design the production, along with Hawaii’s Peter Lee to design the dancers’ costumes.
The ballet is performed in two acts with 14 musical numbers. In the first act, Orfeo is playing his lyre in the forest in front of a ram and a lion when Eurydice appears. Orfeo falls in love with her and charms her with his music. They get married, but on their wedding night, Eurydice is bitten by a serpent and dies.
Devastated, Orfeo journeys to Hades, hoping to rescue Eurydice. He is thwarted at first by Pluto, ruler of the underworld. However, Pluto’s queen, Proserpina, persuades him to release her. As the two of them are about to re-enter the world of the living, Orfeo violates Pluto’s command not to look at Eurydice, and she is dragged back to the underworld.
Fuller explained that he composed the piece for four violins, two violas, cello, bass, flute, oboe, clarinet and bassoon, plus a harp, which is most closely related to Orpheus’ instrument.
Taylor, who sharpened her dancing skills in New York under the tutelage of renowned dancer/choreographer Elisa Monte, said “Orfeo” will be a combination of classical ballet and contemporary styling.
“The score that Tucker created is a mix of contemporary and classical,” Taylor said. “And so, with his score, I’ve been able to play with the elements of ballet and modern together, which has been a great challenge as a choreographer.”
“Tucker has his very specific style of composing and music, which is really beautiful and intricate,” Taylor continued. “I was really inspired by it. … My brain unlocked when I heard his music, and anytime I got stuck, I would just listen to it over and over and over again. And it was really, really fun.”
The lead dancers in the production are Trey Mauldwin as Orfeo, Anna Iosipiv as Eurydice, Donavan Davis as Pluto and Kellis Oldenburg as Proserpina.
The Lion, Ram and Serpent in Act One are danced by Phillip Rush, John Bozeman and Davis. Oldenburg and Gretchen Erickson are Eurydice’s attendants in Act One.
Erickson, Rush, Bozeman and Ashlie Russell perform as Shades — spirits of the departed — in Act Two.