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An Epic Collaboration of Opera & Ballet

October 07, 2017

Adriana Chuchman sings the part of Eurydice in the Lyric Opera’s “Ophree et Eurydice” on opening night, September 22, 2017.Image courtesy of Broadway World.

It’s always bittersweet when summer draws to a close… when children head back to school, routines ensue and leaves begin changing.

Nevertheless, autumn is the time when “the arts” open for another season. It’s a fresh start, and particularly in Chicago, it is always exciting to see what some of the world’s top cultural organizations have in store for audiences.

Last month’s Lyric Opera’s opening was a dream in so many ways. Orpheus and Eurydice was first staged 243 years ago and we know for a fact that it was beautifully sung. This production, however, was certainly different than Christoph Willibald Gluck’s original opera. Always known for it’s lyrical brilliance, this year’s production was amazingly enhanced by the Joffrey Ballet’s 43 scrumptious dancers.

John Neumeier, a former dancer himself, has established himself as one of the world’s premier and most sought-after choreographers. Image courtesy of Hamburg Ballet.

Ultimately, it’s a question of whether this was an opera danced or a ballet sung. Different people might come up with different answers to that question. No doubt, the production was made all the more theatrically stunning thanks to John Neumeier’s brillant choreography. The story is given a modern take – here, Orphee is a choreographer whose wife, Eurydice, the star of his company’s show, storms out of a rehearsal after the couple gets into a personal argument, crashes her car and is instantly killed. What happens afterwards is dreamy and triumphant.

John Neumeier, the Milwaukee native, has served as the director and chief choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet since 1973. Neumeier is known for contemporary choreography and has produced over 120 ballets throughout his career. Neumeier choreographed a variety of scenes from a ballet studio to Hades’s underworld to the Elysian Fields. While the singers maintained their contemporary clothing throughout, the dancers are all dressed to suggest ancient Grecian times.

Victoria Janani and Temur Suluashvili. The dancers are an ideal representation Eurydice and Orphee, and real life husband and wife. Image courtesy of Chicago Sun Times, photographed by Todd Rosenberg.

In this scene, a devastated Orphée (Dmitry Korchak) sees Eurydice (Andriana Chuchman) taken from him. Image courtesy of Classical Voice America, photographed by Todd Rosenberg.

Using the revised 1774 “Paris version” of the Gluck classic, which added a significant dance component and music to the work, this is the perfect composition for Korchak. Korchak’s voice lends itself to the masterful French version as he’s one of the few tenors able to give justice to the part. Different from other operas, Neumeier kept the stage clear of the 60-person Lyric Opera chorus who stood in the pit with the orchestra.

Orphee and Eurydice were perfectly mimicked by the husband and wife Joffrey dancers, Victoria Jainai and Temor Suluashvili. The ghostly “doubles” are joined by ten dancers who evoke the furious Furies, seven couples as the Blessed Spirits of Elysium (dancing barefoot rather than on pointe), and four Shadows.

Tenor Dmitry Korchak with the Joffrey dancers. Image courtesy of WTTW Chicago Tonight, photographed by Todd Rosenberg.

The day prior to the opening, Lyric Opera’s General Director, Anthony Freud and Joffrey Ballet’s Ashley Wheater released information regarding a union between their two companies. Although similar collaborations are common in Europe, it’s rare in the United States

In a press release last month, Mr. Freud had this to say, “It … marks a significant step in Lyric’s strategic plan as we identify new opportunities to grow our audience base through more regular interactions with dance patrons, who are already committed to the arts, and maximize the use of our magnificent opera house.”

Chicago, we can’t wait to see what else you have in your pipeline!

Andriana Chuchman and Dmitry Korchak. Image courtesy of Broadway World.

Orphee et Eurydice

Saturday, September 23rd, through Sunday, October 15th

Location: Lyric Opera House of Chicago, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, 60606

Tickets: $69 to $319

Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission

Information: Lyric Opera of Chicago or (312) 827-5600