Mark Morris, the beloved bad-boy of modern dance, is a brilliant iconoclast fortified with a fine sense of whimsy. He also commands, perhaps boasts, a bold streak of expressive perversion. All of this makes his new production of Gluck’s Orfeo – the last flash of the fading Met season – interesting, witty, even daring. That doesn’t make it apt.
The set, designed by Allen Moyer, is dominated by a three-tier amphitheatre populated with historic figures who observe the inaction below and comment in unison sign- language. The gimmicky charade is meant, no doubt, to underscore the timeless quality of the myth. As costumed by Isaac Mizrahi, the cast of choral characters constantly draws attention from the principals. Ah, there’s Cleopatra, and isn’t that Gandhi, and, look, it’s Mae West mingling with Abe Lincoln and Queen Victoria . . . One person’s illumination is, alas, another person’s camp.
Morris’s abstract choreography, executed by a sweet gang of kids in contemporary mufti, contradicts Gluck at every turn. Tranquil passages emerge nervous, also hectic (“Che puro ciel”). Taut impulses become loose, formal rituals turn casual. Forget elegance. In this unhappy context traditional sensitivities demand contradiction, possibly just because they are traditional. Call it unglücklich.
The title role was originally intended for Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Upon her death last July, the hero’s lute – actually an Elvis-oriented guitar in the passion according to Morris – was passed to David Daniels. He managed to sustain a certain robust magnetism amid the dancerly distractions on Saturday, but his lush countertenor suffered pitch problems as well as dynamic limitations. Morris did him no favour, moreover, by having him sing “Che farò senza Euridice” in shadows on a hideous ramp that obscured most of his torso.
Maija Kovalevska, the Latvian soprano drafted without explanation to replace Lisa Milne, introduced a lovely, poignant Euridice. Heidi Grant Murphy emerged cute-cute-cute-cute as a winged Amor in T-shirt and jeans who flew on wires like Peter Pan.
In the pit, James Levine protected the composer’s honour with dauntless nobility, flexibility and grandeur. Call it glücklich.
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