It seems perfectly appropriate that the premiere of "Orfeo" -- choreographer Maya Taylor's ardent, articulate gloss on the oft-treated legend of doomed lovers Orpheus and Eurydice -- is being staged at the Marigny Opera House. Here is a reconsideration of myth that unfolds within a repurposed Catholic church, a kind of parallel investigation into what is possible when faith gives way to art and the fascination of mythological artifice.
With an evocative original score by Tucker Fuller, danced by members of the Marigny Opera Ballet in a production designed by C. Robert Holloway, this "Orfeo" was unveiled Friday night (Oct. 2) in a sold-out performance.
The production manages to compress an abundance of historical elements without compromising fundamental aesthetic power.
In many respects, the two-act work is a clear homage to classical Greek/Roman and Baroque source material, sifted through a pragmatic evaluation of what would function best in a limited, modern physical space. Numbers can be deceiving. Dave Hurlbert's ballet forces may comprise a mere eight dancers, yet the ensemble is flexible enough and the narrative scheme sufficiently swift and potent, that an observer seldom craves a broader overall scope.
The essential story remains as ever: Orpheus, whose wondrous ways with a lyre beguile both beasts and gods, falls in love and marries Eurydice -- only to find her dead of a serpent's bite on their wedding day. Journeying to the underworld, he persuades Pluto and Proserpina to allow him to carry Eurydice back to the land of the living, an agreement that collapses terribly when Orpheus violates a prohibition of looking back at his beloved before reaching the surface.
Taylor's choreography divides the action into six concise scenes. Each lasts for about 10 minutes, shaped with a vocabulary that is stylistically conservative, employing a familiar landscape of phrasing to make unmistakable expressive points.
This is no hypermodern rejection of tradition. Nor does it need to be. Instead, she imbues a piece customarily filtered through the literal voices of opera (Gluck and especially Monteverdi) with an alternate imperative that is potentially no less compelling.
In this respect, Fuller's music acts as a kind of reference point in which listeners, aided here by a just-plush-enough church acoustic, are themselves teased, charmed, and, once in a while, hurled into what is unfolding in front of them.
The score, played by an accomplished 13-member string/woodwind chamber orchestra conducted by Francis Scully, is by necessity in service to the dancers -- and its intrinsic vitality does very well in that regard. Still, there's quite a bit more to absorb, particularly in how Fuller manages to evoke a Baroque pastoral sensibility (double reeds, most colorfully), constructed with just enough angularity to remind us how the relationship between Orpheus and Eurydice can veer suddenly from bliss into catastrophe.
As the doomed couple, Trey Mauldwin and Anna Iosipiv are fluent partners. His Orpheus progresses from strength to strength, a character defined and eventually undone by his own arching confidence. Her Eurydice begins in a more distant emotional realm. As the two dancers systematically bisect their relative spaces until they become almost a single organism, Eurydice evolves from object of desire to equal in mutual passion.
Donavan Davis, taking on the dual roles of the Serpent and Pluto, is an astonishing presence: tremendous leg extension and assurance coupled with genuine nobility of badness, if that makes any sense. The supporting ensemble, particularly Kellis McSparrin Oldenburg's Proserpina, appreciate how what becomes a legend most can frequently mean according it the occasional wink.
Two additional performances of "Orfeo" are scheduled for Saturday (Oct. 3) and Sunday (Oct. 4) at 8 p.m. at Marigny Opera House, 725 Ferdinand St. Tickets are $30, $20 for students and seniors, plus service fees. Purchase tickets online at Marigny Opera House. Call 504.948.9998, for more information.