Not many dramatic productions can get away with an opening scene in which the chorus comes onstage to mourn one of only three principal characters, but Christoph Gluck’s beautiful 18th-century opera Orpheus and Eurydice is not just any drama. Opera Santa Barbara’s delightful production at the Lobero Theatre was especially strong in establishing the unified aesthetic that Gluck was striving for, giving music, song, story, and dance equal status in revealing the Orphic mysteries.
As for that opening, it’s the death of Eurydice the chorus is mourning, and it doesn’t last because Eurydice doesn’t remain dead. Instead, she comes back to life for long enough to explore one last round of bittersweet conflict with her lover and recent husband Orpheus. As sung by soprano Marnie Breckenridge, Eurydice was unquestionably worth going to hell for, or at least Hades, as Orpheus must in order to reclaim his bride after her untimely death. With the chorus and a marvelous troupe of dancers onstage to develop the opera’s themes more fully, this production consistently gave the audience the right amount to look at and to hear.
Still, the real star of any Gluck Orpheus and Eurydice is inevitably the singer who portrays Orpheus, the anguished artist whose mystical abilities with voice and lyre nearly defeat death. As Orpheus, Layna Chianakas was outstanding, giving the piece the strong anchor that it needed to hold up through myriad changes in medium and delivery. At several moments during the course of the show, Chianakas captured the imagination of the audience and sent waves of excitement through the hall. It just shows that you don’t have to be a man to be a hero, or even a romantic lead.