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Celebrating Pride Month with Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice

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For two nights only, NEMPAC will collaborate with members of the Boston Festival Orchestra and Nightingale in a queer interpretation of Gluck’s famed opera Orfeo ed Euridice. We connected with NEMPAC Executive Director Sherri Snow, NEMPAC Opera Project, Artistic Director and Stage Director of Orfeo ed Euridice, Brenda Huggins, and Boston Festival Orchestra Co-Founder and Artistic Director and Conductor for Orfeo ed Euridice Alyssa Wang for an inside look at the company, the social significance of this interpretation, as well as the musical and dramatic elements expected to make this production shine!

The show will run June 13th and 14th, 7:30pm, at Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts. Tickets HERE. Our interview follows:

Sherry Snow: The NEMPAC Opera Project is NEMPAC’s largest performance program, part of NEMPAC’s robust performing arts center. Founded in 2012, the project propels local professional musicians and artists forward in their continued growth in artistry and prepares them for fulfilling independent careers as well as tells stories that represent the communities and cultures of Boston, ensuring this art form is approachable and relevant to all audience members.

As an organization, we value collaboration. During season 10 of the project, we were fortunate to join forces with the Boston Festival Orchestra, which works with some of Boston’s most exceptional instrumentalists. We’re proud of this collaboration, which strengthens our work and deepens our engagement with other artists in the city. 

This year, NEMPAC has implemented a ‘pay what you can’ ticket model which supports our belief in affordable, accessible opera for all; our ticket prices and community outreach performances reflect this belief.

How did the selection of Orfeo ed Euridice come about? Why this work?

Brenda Huggins: In collaboration with the Boston Festival Orchestra, we wanted to choose a piece with timeless and culturally resonant themes where our artists and audiences can see themselves in the stories. With our Italian Cultural partner, the Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts, selecting a piece in Italian language was a goal, even though it contrasted stylistically contrasted with previous repertoire in our 12-year production history. This is the earliest piece we have produced, and the mythological origins of the story allow us to easily update the production in the way Hadestown modernizes these iconic characters and stories for contemporary audiences.

What is different about this performance? What can audiences expect? 

Our production centers on community and healing instead of focusing only on the loss and grief aspects of the story. By rejoicing ALL LOVE in our first ever Pride Month celebration, Orfeo ed Euridice inspires the LOVE IS LOVE theme for our season, in a modern take on this enduring classic that transcends gender. Typically performed by a femme-identifying mezzo soprano in drag as a pants role, our Orfeo is instead a woman who loses the love of her life on her wedding day. In this intimate, wildly fun, and whimsical take, we set the scene in a 90’s gay club, journeying to the underworld with Orfeo as she processes her grief of the loss of her wife, Euridice. Remembering that gay marriage was not legalized in Massachusetts until 2004, we explore the story of these lovers from the queer community in that place where self-expression and sexuality are unencumbered by politics or other oppressive ideologies: the gay club. Orfeo, a brilliant musician, shows us the power of music and community to heal and help us overcome our deepest heart aches. Love is love, until they can be together again. 

What inspires us most about Pride as a social justice movement is the celebration of joy, love, community, and the importance of visibility. Queer artists and allies take the center of our production on stage and behind the scenes. Especially in the 90s, the club constitutes the vital social scene for queer folks to express their authentic identity… to be seen, loved, and healed.

What elements of this production are you looking forward to sharing? What about this production is meaningful for you? Personally/Artistically/Socially? 

BH: So many opera artists identify as queer, yet queer stories are rarely represented on stage in our artform, especially considering the classics. Staging Gluck’s Orfeo in this way allows us to grow the rep available to authentically and believably shine a light onto queer love in a way that celebrates joy and healing, rather than focusing on violence and oppression.

 What musical aspects of this performance and score are unique/meaningful?

Alyssa Wang: Gluck’s score is perhaps unexpectedly dramatic. You can see how he pushed the boundaries of opera through the incorporation of the harp, which Orpheus plays through her journey in the underworld, the frequent use of the full string orchestra to accompany all of the recitatives, and the way the music so thoroughly represents the text and the emotion behind it. This was such an influential score that many versions of it have been rewritten throughout history, and many people may recognize some of the melodies upon hearing them without knowing the source. To write an opera about the child of a muse is to infuse music into the very nature of the characters. 

What dramatic aspects of this performance and score are unique/meaningful?
It’s no surprise that Gluck wanted to write an opera about a demi-god who used music itself to charm a passage into the underworld in the name of love. When Orpheus plays the harp in the underworld, you have this meta musical moment that is so magical to witness. Yes, the harp player in the orchestra is playing, but it’s also Orpheus on stage embodying what we’re all hearing! 

Let us in behind the scenes — rehearsal process, pre-production — how is it going, what would be interesting for audiences to know?

BH: Our process is highly collaborative. With artistic partners, the BFO and the Nightingale Vocal Ensemble, and our exciting principal cast of local emerging artists and creative team; we are so proud of the community of incredibly talented and passionate creators we have brought together. While centering joy, we are able to find moments of laughter and levity in this otherwise dark and sad piece. Audiences should expect a rollercoaster of emotions with surprising visual moments, nostalgic memory ballets, movement-based choruses, and a whirlwind adventure!

Why should we attend?

For two-nights-only, we will share a celebratory experience that gathers allies and queer folks for Pride. The evening features live music, queer love, specialty cocktails, and a gallery showing of artwork by a local queer artist collective, Creature House, exploring the theme of community and healing. Opera is an experience; and the call to action is celebrating Pride in an inclusive and welcoming environment filled with whimsical drama, vibrant (and often sparkly) costumes, evocative lighting, gorgeous live music, and a night of community healing during a time of great heartbreak and oppression. 

 Orfeo ed Euridice
Dante Alighieri Society of Massachusetts, 41 Hampshire Street, Cambridge
Thursday, June 13th and Friday, June 14th | 7:30 PM to 9:15 PM
$75 Enthusiast (includes access to pre-show reception 6:30-7)
$35 General Admission (includes access to cash bar 7 PM and on)
Pay-what-you-can $0 + (includes access to cash bar 7 PM and on)
Tickets HERE.

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1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Saw it Thurs. Would have gone again on Fri if sched had permitted. Drove back from Leatherstocking Region and barely made it:missed overture and first few minutes. Await the Review…

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — June 16, 2024 at 11:11 am

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