Evan Lawson’s Orpheus
Wednesday, June 5th at 8pm
Thursday, June 6th at 8pm
EURUDICE Jill Suzanne Morgan, mezzo-soprano
ORPHEUS Michael Dixon, tenor
CALAÏS Mikhail Smigelski, bass-baritone
In collaboration with prismatx ensemble
Evan Lawson, conductor
François Minaux, flutes
Bethany Lawrence, oboe, english horn
Abbey Young, clarinet
Sarah Hetrick, saxophones
Alexander Cruz, trombone
Ellie Yamanaka, harp
Cy Miessler, percussion
Alan Chen, violin
Matt Armbruster, cello
Andy Rogers, bass
Sara Sasaki, Director of prismatx series
To support Orpheus on
Monteverdi. Lully. Telemann. Rameau. Gluck. Haydn. Offenbach. Stravinsky. Glass. The tragic love story of Orpheus and Eurydice has been celebrated by musicians for as long as we have had means to do so. But what about Orpheus's affair with fellow argonaut, Caläis? In a preview of our upcoming prismatx series, we present Evan Lawson’s Orpheus, a new opera inspired by this little-known love triangle and a reaction to the censorship of queer elements in Greek mythology.
Since the Victorian era many ancient greek myths have been hijacked and altered to have any references to same-sex relationships or gender fluidity removed. Many people aren’t aware of the diversity in ancient myths that explore varying types of human sexuality and gender. In my exploration of the lesser known parts to the Orpheus myth, I was fascinated to find about his relationship with fellow argonaut Calaïs. In some sources, his love for the young man was deeper than his love for Eurydice. It provided me with a fascinating viewpoint on the love triangle at the core of the myth, and a fascinating love triangle to explore on stage.
Leading on from this relationship between these two men, I was also interested in how to give Eurydice a clear, strong voice. In many of the opera adaptations she’s very much a lesser character, at the beck and call of Orpheus. She is put through harrowing experiences and dies twice. Once at the hand of an asp or a satyr (depending on the version of the myth) and one by the folly of Orpheus. In the text I’ve used for her reappearance, taken from the libretto of the Gluck opera, she fearfully asks Orpheus why she’s been brought back from the dead.
“What life is this now I’m about to lead?”
Captivated, I wanted to provide her character with an opportunity to speak openly and with dignity about her oppression and manipulation by fate and men. I also want to acknowledge that as a male composer I’m following a long and tangled tradition of male composers telling female performers how to interpret female characters, and putting those characters through pain.
The work opens in the shrouding mist of the sea. The three singers commence singing an Ancient Greek hymn to the sea, adapted by myself for this performance. This melody is one of the oldest surviving pieces of notated music.
We then cut to Odysseus’ ship the Argo, which is caught in the throngs of the Sirens’ cries. Orpheus plays his lyre and saves Calaïs and his fellow shipmen, distracting the dangerous Sirens. Calaïs then sings of his love and gratitude in a duet with Orpheus.
As the scene changes, we move into a aria from Eurydice, happy and hopeful on her upcoming marriage to Orpheus. In many sources of the myth, there is no clarity around how Orpheus leaves Calaïs and meets and weds Eurydice, and so it is in this production.
Following on from this is a danced section that depicts the physical love and marriage between Eurydice and Orpheus. This dissolves into her chase, rape and eventual torture by a satyr. She sings of her pain and of the breath leaving her body.
Next, Orpheus journeys to Hades to get her back, resulting in a confrontation with the king of the underworld. Hades is depicted by the contrabass recorder and his wife Persephone, by the bass flute. Hades allows Eurydice to return to earth, with one condition: that Orpheus does not look at her on the journey back to earth. Sources vary about weather Eurydice is aware of this condition or not. Either way in a state of anxiety and fear he looks back. Eurydice’s soul is returned back to Hades.
Lost and mournful, he searches for his love Calaïs, only to be confronted by a drunken orgy of the women of Eurydice’s people. He turns them away, vowing to only love Calaïs, provoking the women and causing them to rip his body to shreds, decapitating him in an orgiastic dance of death. The voice of Zeus rises from the earth through a fast trombone, saxophone and clarinet passage, and carries his head into the sky where it is set as a star.
The three voices then sing an epilogue with the words of Shakespeare,
In sweet music is such art
Killing care and grief of heart
Fall asleep or baring die.
Co-commissioned by Forest Collective and prismatx ensemble.
World premiere performance by Forest Collective at Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne as part of Midsumma Festival 2019, supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and City of Yarra.
USA premiere performance by prismatx ensemble and Density512 at Imagine Art, Austin TX.
Evan's appearance at this performance is support by the Ian Potter Cultural Trust.
This work was written on the lands of the Wurundjeri People of the Kulin Nation, and we pay respects to their elders past, present and emerging.
special thanks to:
Sara Sasaki, Director of prismatx series
José Martinez, Sound Engineer
Nicholas Perry Clark, Executive Director/co-Artistic Director
Jacob Schnitzer, co-Artistic Director
Laura Crabbe, Deputy Director
Akshaya Avril Tucker, Director of Public Programs
Adam Drake, Director of Development
Luke Berringer, Operations Manager
Jordan Walsh, Volunteer
Ellen Yamanaka, Volunteer
Josh Barker, Volunteer
Imagine Art, Venue Host