Saturday, February 25, 2012

Highlighting Orphée Instrumental solos

Musically, Orphée et Eurydice is a sumptuous feast for the ears, and before we open tonight I wanted to point out a couple of its special delights. Those of you who like to peer into the orchestra pit during the performance will see two instruments you don't always find in an opera orchestra: the theorbo, played by Stephen Stubbs (right), and harpsichord, played by Phil Kelsey (left).

The theorbo is a type of lute developed in Florence during the late sixteenth century. Typically it has fourteen courses (pairs) of strings and eight long single bass strings, stopped on frets. Given its size, the theorbo makes enough sound to be heard in a vast modern opera house. Stephen Stubbs, the international lute superstar and Artistic Director of Pacific Musicworks, alternates in these performances between it and baroque guitar.

Phil Kelsey, meanwhile, is playing a replica of an early 18th-century German harpsichord, built by David Calhoun of Seattle, owned by Tamara Friedman and George Bozarth, and maintained by Devin Zimmer. Phil, who is Seattle Opera's Assistant Conductor, spoke to us on Staff Chat recently; he also conducts the offstage banda during Acts 1 and 2 of Orphée:

In Act One, the banda (above, l to r, Matt McGrath (double bass), Chuck Jacot (cello), Penelope Crane (viola), Xiao-po Fei (violin), Timothy Garland (violin), Ben Hausmann (oboe)) echo the lamentations of the lonely Orphée, who keeps tossing his voice into the vast emptiness and hearing the sounds he makes come back to him courtesy of Ben Hausmann's oboe. In Act Two, the offstage banda is pizzicato strings and harp (played by Valerie Muzzolini-Gordon), as Orphée plucks away at the heart-strings of the terrible Furies in their great confrontation:

After Orphée makes it past the Furies, he heads for the Elysian Fields, where we hear the famous "Dance of the Blessed Spirits," featuring a solo performed by Demarre McGill, principal flute player of Seattle Symphony.

During this solo, the Blessed Spirits, as danced by (l to r) Daniel Howerton, Kate Chamberlin, Scott Bartell, Marissa Quimby, Demetrius Tabron, Roxanne Foster, and Kyle Johnson, welcome us to Elysium.

All photos by Elise Bakketun


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