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Philip Glass

Publisher: Chester Music

Orphée (1993)
commissioned by the American Repertory Theater, Cambridge, MA and the Brooklyn Academy of Music
Work Notes
Opera in two acts Libretto (French) by the composer based on the film by Jean Cocteau.
Text Writer
the composer
Dunvagen Music Publishers Inc
Opera and Music Theatre
Year Composed
2 Hours 20 Minutes
English, French, German
2 Sopranos, Mezzo Soprano, 3 Tenors, Baritone, 2 Basses
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Programme Note
Philip Glass Orphée (1993)
Princessa - soprano
Eurydice - soprano
Heurtebise - tenor
Orphee - baritone

Based on Cocteau's fascinating retelling of the Orpheus myth, "Orphée", the first opera of Philip Glass' Cocteau Trilogy, is an extended, parable on the life of an artist, a poet harassed and misunderstood by peers. His success leads to ridicule by fellow poets, ending in a creatively crippling isolation. With a renewed apprehension of his own mortality, Orphée regains his emotional strength, enabling him to ignore the trials of ordinary life, freeing him to be a poet. The poets Orphée and Cégeste, Euridice, and a mysterious Princess interact within the worlds of the living and the dead, existing in that mysterious realm that separates the two worlds. Love triumphs and thus returns Orphée and Euridice to mortal life, with no remaining consciousness of their unusual time spent between "the worlds." The Princess has violated the laws of life and death one time too many and is banished into oblivion.

  • Ensemble
    Portland Opera
    Philip Cutlip, Lisa Saffer, Ryan MacPherson, Georgia Jarman
    Anne Manson
    Organe Mountain Music:
His (Glass) chamber opera is beguiling, delicate and genuinely alert to the nuances of the drama; as we already knew from 'La Belle et la bete', he has a real affinity for the French text and sets the words sensitively, supporting them with delicately patterned instrumental textures which provide the slowly changing backdrop to the action. Every note is beautifully judged.
Andrew Clements, Opera,01/08/2005
The new Philip Glass opera, Orphée, was as much theatre as it was opera. Featuring not one but two of this year's finalists for the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, seven of the Vilar Young Artists and Francisco Negrin as Director, it was always going to be noteworthy, and it was. Glass has transposed Jean Cocteau's black and white film of the same name into a chamber opera. The small orchestra of fourteen, under the firm baton of Rory Macdonald, coped well with the myriad rhythms and tempi that Glass aficionados adore. The singing was first rate and very close at hand, being no more than two feet away at some points, and never above fifty. Jared Holt as the troubled Orphée and the up-and-coming Katie Van Kooten as Eurydice were both in full command of their roles, singing their hearts out. La Princess, representing death, was taken by the Korean soprano Ha Young Lee in an icy, superbly controlled performance and the most beautiful dark dress, most certainly "death becomes her!" Her deputy Heurtebise, played by Andrew Kennedy, has a rich expressive tenor, much used in this emotionally charged role. Both he and his boss, Le Princess, were nominated for the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition, the former was one of five finalists and Winner of the Rosenblatt Song Contest, the latter won the Audience Prize. These four main characters were on stage for pretty much the entire performance. The Linbury has the stage in the middle with seats rising steeply to either side. Even those at the back were never more than one hundred feet from the action. The production was at times as fast paced as the score, changing tempo with lifting and lowering floor levels, characters running on and off stage and props descending from the ceiling and occasionally completely static. The cast regularly entered and exited down the aisles between the audience's seats, singing behind us, before us and making us part of the whole experience; and experience it was. If you like Glass, you will love this.
Christopher Monk, Musical Opinion,01/07/2005
A minimalist style of Glass's sort readily allows the words and the action unfettered prominence, conforming almost incidentally to the ideals of operatic reformists throughout the ages... This striking Royal Opera production by Francisco Negrin, conducted by the young Rory MacDonald (his orchestra invisible) and spotlighting the considerable talents of singers from the Vilar Young Artists programme, was given in clear French with surtitles, and nothing got in the way of the chic and tragic story. Glass's ability to turn Cocteau's suave text into stylish (amplified) declamation, and link it floatingly with the sombre riffs that are his harmonic plan, is dramatically apposite.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,05/06/2005
In the early 1990s Philip Glass produced a trilogy of music-theatre pieces based on the films of Jean Cocteau. The best known is La Belle et la Bête, a hypnotically beautiful work that matches Cocteau's visuals to a score setting the words of the original script. A dance-opera version of Les Enfants Terribles followed, but the first part of the triptych had been Orphée, a conventional chamber opera based on Cocteau's updating of the Orpheus myth to postwar France. The Royal Opera's staging is the first in this country and it shows Glass's Orphée to be beguiling and sensitive. Glass has a real affinity for the French text and sets the words eloquently, underpinning them with delicately patterned instrumental textures to provide a slow changing backdrop to the action, every note beautifully judged. In the reworking Orphée is a successful, married poet - despised by the avant garde for his popularity - who loses his creative will and falls in love with death, personified as a mysterious princess. His journey to the underworld, 'the Zone', becomes an interrogation, but eventually leads to his and his wife Eurydice's return to the land of the living. After the princess has sacrificed herself to make Orphée immortal, the couple take up their married life again, with Orphée's creativity restored by this close encounter with death.
Andrew Clements, The Guardian,02/06/2005
Orphée is Philip Glass's eleventh opera; it is a chamber work. It may have been in reaction to The Voyage commissioned by New York's Metropolitan Opera in 1992 - where Glass pulled out every stop available to a major opera house - that in the same year he turned to the relative intimacy of Jean Cocteau. Glass set three of Cocteau's greatest films - Orphée, La Belle et la Bête, and Les Enfants Terribles... Orpheus in opera is as old as opera itself. But Cocteau's take is elaborate and Glass's take on Cocteau more convoluted still. Glass's music follows his usual routine - burbling arpeggios, chugging bass, rhythmic accompanimental figures - over which the singers lyrically intone their words... Glass's music is touchingly expressive - perhaps because so much is in the minor mode. The Royal Opera House has taken a leap.
Annette Morreau, The Independent,30/05/2005
...Philip Glass comes close to the perfect marriage of music and drama....Orphée is a lushly expressive, beautifully shaped, deeply emotional score that lives up to and expresses the central point of the Orpheus story: This is music that not only could soothe the savage beast, it can charm and seduce death itself....Glass' setting of the vocal lines is exceptionally satisfying, the music constantly engaging and dramatically effective but never intrusive. The music is always in the service of the dramatic and poetic experience.
Jon L. Lehman, Patriot Ledger,01/01/0001
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