ORFEO ED EURIDICE
Orpheus and Eurydice is a myth that can perfectly convey the message of the progress of time and of the human development.
When it was first conceived, about 3000 years ago, the Greek culture was a purely oral culture: knowledge, as well as stories and tales, were passed on by means of the spoken word. The chanter, known in ancient Greece as ‘Aoidos’, was the one in charge of this communication: he declaimed his verse (mostly improvised, using fixed poetic schemes which he repeated and revised time by time) with a lyre, singing about different myths. Because the idea of fiction as we know it today (meaning stories and tales ‘recorded’ on an external support such as paper) did not exist yet, the chanter's tales were lost as soon as his action-performance ended.
This is why a tale such as the one of Orpheus and Eurydice was born. By means of his character of poet and ancient chanter, Orpheus justifies the existence of many aoidos who could narrate his deeds. As the myth tells, since he was not able to bring Eurydice back to life, Orpheus is condemned to spend the rest of his existence wandering and telling everyone his tragic story. It is said, in fact, that every single chanter in Thrace (Orpehus’ native land) knew the sad story of Orpheus and his beautiful Eurydice. This is indeed how the first chanter was born and how he started passing down the art of music and poetry from generation to generation. And the reason why many more chanters followed is exactly to keep on handing down this and many other tales.
With time though, humanity switched from orality to literacy. This transition, which definitely represents one of the most important technical evolutions of mankind, had some repercussions on the myth of Orpheus as well.
In fact, there are some major changes also in the opera versions by Gluck and Calzabigi. The most important one can be found in the finale of the opera, meaning in that part of the story that best gives a testimony of the ancient oral culture, given that the second and ultimate death of Eurydice is directly leading up to the conclusive moral of the chanter’s ‘birth’. In 1762 though, humanity was definitely not anymore in the era of oral culture. On the contrary, it was the age of Enlightenment, of the power of reason and of the circulation of knowledge. Nothing was left to chance: literature was not based on improvisation anymore but on careful consideration and reflection. Narration took place by means of essays, novels or short stories. Gluck himself was a ‘writer’ par excellence: fed up with the singers of his time, castrati who loved to show off their abilities to the detriment of the character, he did his best to write down and fix his opera note by note, in order to make sure that no one could modify to his liking any part of it. This was his most important reform.
This is why Orpheus needed a modernization too. Exactly like his predecessor did, he will not pass the test: unable to resist to the sweet words of his beloved, he will turn around to look at her and, by doing so, he will condemn her again and forever to the Underworld. However, instead of returning empty-handed to the world, Amore will symbolically give him back his Eurydice, as if to say that there is no need to wander from land to land singing and improvising, because his story will now be told anyway. This is because recording overcomes improvisation, literacy overcomes orality and sight overcomes listening.
Two and a half centuries later, we still all know the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, even if the world has gone through some major and profound changes. This is why today we need to introduce our version of the myth, keeping faith with the idea of art as a ‘reflection of society’.
Therefore if we watch closely at our time, we can immediately realise we are living that moment that Walter J. Ong (cultural and religious historian, philosopher and anthropologist) defined ‘an era dominated by secondary orality’. This means that today we are less and less used to read and we rely more and more often on the ‘distant voice’ of the new media such as radio, television, computer and Internet. And those few times we read, it’s usually a spot-reading: our minds are instilled with tiny pieces of sentences ‘stolen’ from incessant advertisements surrounding us. In a way, we are more and more inclined to a relapse into illiteracy while, at the same time, we are continuously bombarded with images and pictures. This means that, in our time, the boundary between orality and literacy does not exist anymore, it is a lot less defined and difficult to identify.
All this brings us to one direct consequence with regard to ‘our’ Orpheus: it was necessary that he lived in our current time in order to transmit to the future generations a new version of the myth, still highly significant. This is why, when answering the question ‘Who is this new Orpheus?’ we could only look at artists, musicians and poets of our time. And exactly like many of today’s rock star, our Orpheus will not be simply a poet and a singer (or maybe a songwriter, as for instance in folk music), but he will be a symbol, too: an icon, idolized by his fans exactly like the ancient Orpheus was idolized by the intoxicated maenads who longed to have him, in the grip of an orgiastic excitement. He represents a sort of a modern Dionysus, a God in fact: a God of rock. This is why the world around him is exactly the world of a rock star: a world made of joy and sorrow, excesses and wildness, speed and extreme experiences, leading him very often close to death. In fact, he will be constantly fascinated by death and he will feel alive only in relation to it. It is important not to forget that in the original myth, Orpheus was described as a shaman who could charm both humans and gods, alive and dead, wild beasts and animals with his music. He had a special ability: he could access both the human world and the dark paths of the Underworld.
So how could we tell the story of this journey with a modern take? We decided to stop the moment of death in one single instant: a suspended moment in which Orpheus will have his life flash before his eyes. Orpheus will be forced to follow his journey exactly in this blink of an eye. He will have to travel in a partially mental place, suspended in a limbo, hanging in the balance between life and death, in a strenuous attempt to get Eurydice back in order to hang on to her memory and not to lose her.
Nevertheless, as we slowly progressed to the end of the opera, it was essential for us to answer another important question, namely will Orpheus be able to bring Eurydice back to life? And also: in a modern take of the myth taking place in our contemporary world, is it right for Orpheus to manage to get Eurydice back, in spite of all his failures? The answers can obviously be found in our opera.
It is certain though that, because this story was handed down to us, it was our uttermost duty that ‘this’ Orpheus could hand it down again to our audience and to the posterity. It was fundamental that this chanter could narrate once again the tale of Orpheus and his Muse, the beautiful Eurydice, in order to make us reflect upon ourselves, today, once again.
This is the last impression we wanted our opera to transmit: the regained importance of handing down a message orally by means of music and poetry, as a symbol of a real communication of a moral and of a teaching that today, at times, is going missing.
Stefano Simone Pintor
by C. W. Gluck
Sikle Marchfeld, Orfeo
Roma Loukes, Euridice
Georgina Louise Stalbow, Amore
Roland Böer, conductor
Stefano Simone Pintor, director
Gregorio Zurla, scenes
Noémie Grottini, costumes
Gianni Trabalzini, stage lightning
Virginio Levrio, Gregorio Zurla, Stefano Simone Pintor, video intervenctions
Maria Stella Poggioni e Stefano Simone Pintor, choreography
in collaboration with École de ballet
Mauro Montanari, graphic project
Lisa Frigo, maestro sostituto
Gabriele Centorbi, musical assistent
Emilio Zanetti, direction assistent
Elena Colombo, scenes assistent
Stefania Coretti, costumes assistent
JULY 18th AND 19th 9,30pm
JULY 20th 5,30pm