orpheus

2015-2018


Libretto devised by the Composer from the libretto of Orfeo ed Euridice, Ranieri de' Calzabigi, L'Orfeo, Alessandro Striggio and words by Phemocles and William Shakespeare.


A dance-Opera in 4 parts & epilogue

Part 1 - and Calais

Part 2 - and Eurydice

Part 3 - and the Cave

Part 4 - and the Pangaion Hills  

Epilogue


Roles

Tenor - Orpheus

Mezzo Soprano - Eurydice

Baritone - Calaïs 


orchestra

Fl./A.Fl./Pic./B.Fl.

Spr.Rec./Sop.Rec./Al.Rec./B.Rec./C.B.Rec. or Ob./C.A.

Cl./B.Cla.

T.Sax./A.Sax.

Tbn./ optional Skbt.

Perc. (B.D. Gng. Bngs. Wood Wind Chimes)

Hp.

Vln. V.Cel. D.B.

Commissioned by Forest Collective & Prismatx Ensemble

Dedicated to Mum & Dad

dur. 70”

synopsis

Since the Victorian era many ancient greek myths have been hijacked and altered to have any references to same-sex relationships or gender fluidity removed. Many people aren’t aware of the diversity in ancient myths that explore varying types of human sexuality and gender. In my exploration of the lesser known parts to the Orpheus myth, I was fascinated to find about his pederasty relationship with fellow argonaut Calaïs. In some sources, his love for the young man was deeper than his love for Eurydice. It provided me with a fascinating viewpoint on the love triangle at the core of the myth, and a fascinating love triangle to explore on stage.

Leading on from this relationship between these two men, I was also interested in how to give Eurydice a clear, strong voice. In many of the opera adaptations she’s very much a lesser character, at the beck and call of Orpheus. She is put through harrowing experiences and dies twice. Once at the hand of an asp or a satyr (depending on the version of the myth) and one by the folly of Orpheus.

In the text I’ve used for her reappearance, taken from the libretto of the Gluck opera, she fearfully asks Orpheus why she’s been brought back from the dead.

“What life is this now I’m about to lead?”

Captivated, I wanted to provide her character with an opportunity to speak openly and with dignity about her oppression and manipulation by fate and men.

I also want to acknowledge that as a male composer I’m following a long and tangled tradition of male composers telling female performers how to interpret female characters, and putting those characters through pain.

The work opens in the shrouding mist of the sea. The three singers commence singing an Ancient Greek hymn to the sea, adapted by myself for this performance. This melody is one of the oldest surviving pieces of notated music.

We then cut to Odysseus’ ship the Argo, which is caught in the throngs of the Sirens’ cries. Orpheus plays his lyre and saves Calaïs and his fellow shipmen, distracting the dangerous Sirens. Calaïs then sings of his love and gratitude in a duet with Orpheus.

As the scene changes, we move into a aria from Eurydice, happy and hopeful on her upcoming marriage to Orpheus. In many sources of the myth, there is no clarity around how Orpheus leaves Calaïs and meets and weds Eurydice, and so it is in this production.

Following on from this is a danced section that depicts the physical love and marriage between Eurydice and Orpheus. This dissolves into her chase, rape and eventual torture by a satyr. She sings of her pain and of the breath leaving her body.

Next, Orpheus journeys to Hades to get her back, resulting in a confrontation with the king of the underworld. Hades is depicted by the contrabass recorder and his wife Persephone, by the bass flute. Hades allows Eurydice to return to earth, with one condition: that Orpheus does not look at her on the journey back to earth. Sources vary about weather Eurydice is aware of this condition or not. Either way in a state of anxiety and fear he looks back. Eurydice’s soul is returned back to Hades.

Lost and mournful, he searches for his love Calaïs, only to be confronted by a drunken orgy of the women of Eurydice’s people. He turns them away, vowing to only love Calaïs, provoking the women and causing them to rip his body to shreds, decapitating him in an orgiastic dance of death. The voice of Zeus rises from the earth through a fast trombone, saxophone and clarinet passage, and carries his head into the sky where it is set as a star.

The three voices then sing an epilogue with the words of Shakespeare,

In sweet music is such art

Killing care and grief of heart

Fall asleep or baring die.


world premiere

January 31 - February 3, 2019

Presented by Forest Collective, as part of Convent Live and Midsumma Festival

Sacred Heart Oratory, Abbotsford Convent, Melbourne, Australia

Supported by the Victorian Government through Creative Victoria and the City of Yarra


Orpheus - Raymond Khong (guest musician) & Ashley Dougan

Eurydice - Kate Bright & Piaera Lauritz

Calaïs - Joseph Ewart (guest musician) & Luke Fryer

Composer & Musical Director - Evan J Lawson 

Choreographer & Dancer - Ashley Dougan

Costume Designer - Jane Noonan

Set Designer - Candice MacAllister 

Harp - Samantha Remirez (guest musician)

Flutes - Eric Tucceri (guest musician)

Saxophones - Jesse Deane (guest musician)

Clarinets - Vilan Mai

Recorders - Ryan Williams 

Trombone/Sackbut - Trea Hindley 

Percussion - Alexander Clayton 

Violin - Helen Bower 

Cello - Evelyn Searle (guest musician)

Double Bass - Ian Crossfield (guest musician)

Photos by Kate J Baker

Orpheus is a captivating testament to unbridled passion and talent.
— Gavin Roach, Australian Arts Review, http://artsreview.com.au/orpheus/
Lawson’s innovative musical imaginations...are striking...
— Bridget Davies, The Age, https://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/opera/opera-for-the-ages-with-a-twist-20190201-p50v5g.html
...chilling and compelling...
— Shane Murphy, Daily Review, https://dailyreview.com.au/orpheus-forest-collective-review-abbotsford-convent-melbourne/80477/
...the sonorities that emerged often proved extraordinary...
— Clive O’Connell, The Music, https://oconnellthemusic.com/2019/02/02/new-take-on-an-old-tale/
Best of all, the enterprise gives you a freshness of vision, even new insights into an old tale...You leave feeling that you have been involved in a ritual, human in its essence and recounted with a scouring freshness.
— Clive O’Connell, The Music, https://oconnellthemusic.com/2019/02/02/new-take-on-an-old-tale/
Under the direction of composer and creator Evan Lawson, Orpheus matches its ambition with measured pace and intriguing technique. You can feel the excitement and passion radiating off Lawson as he conducts the work with flare and control.
— Gavin Roach, Australian Arts Review, http://artsreview.com.au/orpheus/
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USA premiere performance

June 5 & 6, 2019

Presented by Prismatx Ensemble & Density 512

Imagined Art, Austin, Texas USA

Eurydice Jill Suzanne Morgan, mezzo-soprano

Orpheus Michael Dixon, tenor

Calaïs Mikhail Smigelski, bass-baritone

Conductor - Evan J Lawson

Flutes - François Minaux

Oboe & Cor Anglais - Bethany Lawrence

Clarinet - Abbey Young

Saxophones - Sarah Hetrick

Trombone - Alexander Cruz

Harp - Ellie Yamanaka

Percussion - Cy Miessler

Violin - Alan Chen

Cello - Matt Armbruster

Double Bass - Andy Rogers

Sara Sasaki, Director of prismatx series

Evan’s performance was made possible by a grant from the Ian Potter Cultural Fund.