In a project that is bound to cross-pollinate the audiences for ballet and opera in this city, the Joffrey Ballet will join forces with Lyric Opera of Chicago as well as LA Opera to present a major new co-production of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s “Orphee & Eurydice.” It will be directed, choreographed and designed by John Neumeier, the Milwaukee-bred artist who has been director and chief choreographer of Germany’s Hamburg Ballet since 1973.
The production, which marks the first collaboration among the three organizations, will feature the Joffrey dancers in the seven Chicago performances on the Lyric stage this coming fall (Sept. 23 – Oct. 15), with a subsequent Los Angeles production at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion (March 10 -25, 2018). Staatsoper Hamburg, a co-producer of “Orphee,” will present performances during the 2018 -2019 season with the Hamburg Ballet.
Gluck’s opera, first performed in 1762, is based on the tale of Orpheus, the legendary musician and poet of ancient Greek mythology who pursued his beloved wife, Eurydice, into the Underworld in an effort to bring her back from the dead. Amore (Cupid) tells him he may retrieve his wife only on the condition that he not look at her until they are back on Earth. And while he uses his beautiful voice to charm all those who would thwart him, he loses Eurydice because when he refuses to look at her she takes it as a sign he no longer loves her and she dies once more. When Orphee decides to kill himself out of grief, Amore intervenes, and the strength of the pair’s love ultimately results in a happy ending.
“I didn’t know Anthony Freud when he took over as general director of Lyric Opera in 2011,” said Ashley Wheater, artistic director of the Joffrey. “But we met for dinner and talked about how wonderful it would be if our two companies could collaborate. I still had great memories of the time when, at 13, I performed in Benjamin Britten’s opera, ‘Death in Venice,’ at England’s Aldeburgh Festival and Covent Garden, which was choreographed by Frederick Ashton. And working with John on ‘Sylvia,’ his full-length story ballet – which he set on the Joffrey, and which we performed at the Auditorium Theatre in Oct. 2015 – I saw firsthand his ability to make classic stories mean something to us today.”
Among the most influential choreographers of our time, Neumeier has worked with leading dance and opera companies around the world including the Paris Opera, American Ballet Theatre, the Bolshoi Ballet and London’s Royal Ballet.
Gluck’s 1774 Paris version of “Orphee,” considered a major influence on the development of opera, positioned the dance element as the equivalent to song, with Gluck adding much important ballet music (including “Dance of the Furies” and “Dance of the Blessed Spirits”) that made dance a crucial element of the drama. Gluck also reworked the score for the Paris version so that the role of Orphee, originally written for alto castrato, could be sung by a tenor. (The presentation of the 1774 Paris version of this work is a first for both Lyric Opera and LA Opera.)
In a prepared statement, Freud noted: “Lyric’s first collaboration with the Joffrey Ballet represents a momentous partnership between two of Chicago’s greatest cultural institutions. I have admired the work of John Neumeier for more than 30 years, and I am thrilled he will be returning to Lyric 56 years after he made his debut as a dancer with the company in the world premiere of Giannini’s ‘The Harvest.’ This is the first time in Lyric’s history that a new production will be directed, choreographed, and fully designed (sets, costumes and lighting) by a single artist. John is a true master in all these disciplines.”
The Lyric production will feature Russian tenor Dmitry Korchak as Orphée, Canadian soprano Andriana Chuchman as Eurydice, and American soprano Lauren Snouffer as Amour. The work will be led by English conductor Harry Bicket, noted for his interpretation of baroque and classical repertoire.
The LA Opera performances will be conducted by James Conlon, the company’s music director, and the cast will feature Maxim Mironov, Lisette Oropesa and Liv Redpath. Performances at both locations will be in French with projected English translations.
Tickets for the Chicago production will be available as part of a subscription package for Lyric’s 2017-18 season, available beginning Feb. 7, when the company announces its entire season. Call (312) 827-5600 or visit http://www.lyricopera.org. Individual tickets will go on sale in July, 2017.
The Joffrey’s 2017-2018 season will be announced at a later date. Meanwhile, in the wake of its world premiere of Christopher Wheeldon’s “The Nutcracker” this past December, it will present “Game Changers,” a program of three contemporary works (Feb. 15 – 26 at the Auditorium), followed by its first visit to New York in two decades, with its production of Krzysztof Pastor’s “Romeo and Juliet,” March 29 – April 2, at Lincoln Center.