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Boston Lyric Opera Reinvents the Orpheus Myth with ‘Eurydice’

Elliot Madore and Sydney Mancasola in Boston Lyric Opera's "Eurydice" at the Huntington Theatre.
Elliot Madore and Sydney Mancasola in Boston Lyric Opera's "Eurydice" at the Huntington Theatre. By Courtesy of Nile Scott Studios
By Alisa S. Regassa, Crimson Staff Writer

From March 1 to March 10, Boston Lyric Opera presented a new production of “Eurydice,” which originally premiered at Los Angeles Opera in 2020. The golden child of Boston-born composer Matthew A. Aucoin ’12 and librettist Sarah Ruhl, “Eurydice” tells the myth of Orpheus from Euryidce’s perspective. With Sydney Mancasola starring in the lead role and Aucoin’s new arrangement for the chamber orchestra, “Eurydice” was successfully transformed into a contemporary marvel.

“Eurydice” is adapted from the 2003 play of the same name, which follows Eurydice as she marries Orpheus, descends into the Underworld, and is rescued by her husband. Her story ultimately ends in tragedy, when Orpheus famously looks back and condemns them both to their demise. In a myth that is so canonical, Ruhl and Aucoin’s interpretation gives voice to the often neglected heroine, offering a modern lens to antiquity.

The opera begins with the marriage of Eurydice and Orpheus. Their relationship can only be described as puppy love, with Elliot Madore playing the simpleminded, blond Orpheus. It’s hard to take his affections seriously when he proposes with a string for a ring, along with Eurydice’s comical lines like “Orpheus is always in the shower when the guests arrive” — a one liner that sent chuckles throughout the crowd. It seemed like there was no time to develop their romance into something more convincing, given that the first act already sees them engaged to be married. Regardless, the leads conveyed a convincingly emotional performance of fools madly in love.

Mark S. Doss delivered a beautifully clandestine performance as Eurydice’s father. As Ruhl created the character in part to honor her own father, that familial love was not lost in Doss’s delivery. When teaching Eurydice to speak again after losing her memory, Doss emoted the lines so well that he imbued new meaning to them, extrapolating on the theme of memory in aging. The libretto captured that relationship as well, with lines like “a wedding is for the father and daughter […] the last night a daughter is married to her father.” Doss’s emotion also came through in scenes of physicality, like when he built a room out of string as a touching ode to the father-daughter relationship. The symbolism of the string offered a great through line throughout the opera, first serving as a marriage vow, then in the touching craft of Eurydice’s father’s room, and lastly as vessels of Orpheus’s Shakespearean letters to the Underworld.

Another stand out performance came from Nicholas Kelliher as Orpheus’s Daemon double. Kelliher harmonized perfectly in unison with Madore, creating an angelic contrast to the latter’s low timbre. That harmony worked well with Aucoin’s melodies, which could only be described as intriguingly unorthodox, setting a tense mood that is then resolved by the beautiful moments of harmonic release in the vocals. Its convoluted nature did not yield to easy listening, and it was a taxing experience for the listener trying to find a melodic theme along the music. However, digital screens allowed the artists to see into the chamber of the conductor and saved the performance from a potentially disjointed rhythm.

David Portillo’s tenor tremolo provided an interesting contrast for his role as Hades, adding to the abstract melodies in the orchestration. Costume designer and Harvard alumnus Doug G. Fitch ’81 captured that eccentric mood through Hades’s outfits as well, with a green beard and laser red glasses. The Stones offered great comedic relief with their take on the Greek chorus, especially Alexis Peart’s quirky quips as Big Stone. Overall, the set design was modern yet elaborative, with some striking set transitions to glue the narrative together.

In the age of contemporaries like “Hadestown,” a modern retelling of the “Eurydice” myth is as timely as it is timeless. Boston Lyric Opera’s reimagining brings Eurydice’s voice to frontstage, challenging our preconceptions about how the Orpheus myth is relevant today.

“Eurydice” ran at the Huntington Theatre from March 1 through March 10.

—Staff writer Alisa S. Regassa can be reached at alisa.regassa@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X at @alisaregassa.

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