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Orpheus & Euridice

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Album Review

Opera soprano Elizabeth Futral, clarinetist Todd Palmer (who commissioned the piece), and pianist Melvin Chen (along with a small dance troupe) performed composer Ricky Ian Gordon's song cycle Orpheus & Euridice as part of the American Songbook and New Visions series at the Rose Theater in New York's Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in October 2006. It turns out that was more than five months after they had recorded the work for this release. As his inspiration for writing a composition based on the Greek myth, Gordon cites personal experience: "In 1995, my partner at the time, Jeffrey Grossi, started to become very ill." Thus was born a reflection on love, death, and art that turns out to be simple, but effective. The tale of Orpheus' love of Euridice, her death, and his attempt to reclaim her in Hades is told in the lyrics, but this is really a trio performance by Futral and the two instrumentalists. All three are given music that tests the ranges of their instruments, despite this being an essentially austere piece. Although it has been staged, Gordon's Orpheus & Euridice is a work for the recital hall, not the musical theater, and should be classified as classical music.

Customer Reviews

Opera News Review of Ricky Ian Gordon's "orpheus and Euridice"

Orpheus & Euridice
GORDON, Orpheus & Euridice
At first, one might think Orpheus has given up his mythic lyre for a clarinet in Ricky Ian Gordon's haunting two-act song cycle Orpheus & Euridice. But Gordon means something a lot less literal and more poignant here; the clarinet is not so much the instrument Orpheus plays as the sound of his inner music - his longing, joy and pain. And in the hands of clarinetist Todd Palmer, the point is beautifully made.

In 1995, Palmer approached Gordon with the suggestion that he compose a piece for clarinet, soprano and piano, a modern answer to Schubert's Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock). At the time, Gordon's partner was dying from AIDS, and the composer wasn't sure he was up to the assignment. Then one morning, Gordon woke up with the inspiration to cast Palmer and his clarinet as Orpheus, grieving a Euridice plagued with a virus rhat takes her away. The piece was first staged at Cooper Union in Manhattan in 2001; the current recording is based on Gotdon's expansion of Orpheus, as staged by Doug Varone at Lincoln Center in 2005.

Gordon claims to have written the libretto in one hour, but there's nothing facile about it. Graceful, soulful, inspired and personal, it sets the Orpheus story in a modern context. This couple gets a little more time on earth than the fabled pair - plus a house, a garden and a chance to dance (an interlude in which pianist Melvin Chen sets the clarinetist Palmer free). Soprano Elizabeth Futral delivers the story's third-person narracion with full emotional involvement, as well as singing the song Orpheus wrote for Euridice, "I am parr of something now."

When death takes Euridice away, Orpheus follows her to a hell "you had to pass through. Like life, you had to traverse through the night / To circumnavigate the light." He makes his deal and brings her back but of course cannot resisr looking back any more than any grieving lover can resist looking back. Euridice disappears, and Orpheus is torn apart - would that this CD could let us see Doug Varone's choreography. Music born of grief and sorrow becomes its own consolation. Taking a myth that is irresistible to composers, Gordon has written a song cycle that makes great theater. In this recording, Futral's voice is ripe with yearning, and pianist Melvin Chen is sharp and tuneful - but it is Todd Palmer who proves that a clarinet can charm the gods as it revives the soul.
- Rick Hamlin, Opera News, 1 March 2007

Orpheus & Euridice, Ricky Ian Gordon
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