Review: ‘Orphic Moments,’ With Feast, at National Sawdust

Anthony Roth Costanzo
The New York Times

Since National Sawdust opened in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in October, it has been an intimate, adaptable space for modest-size concerts. While it is no place for traditional opera, a performance on Wednesday night demonstrated that it might be ideal for productions that revitalize the art form at a time when it could use some shaking up.

Under the auspices of National Sawdust and the Manhattan School of Music, the inventive director and visual artist Doug Fitch and the superb countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo presented “Orphic Moments,” a pairing of a new dramatic cantata by the young composer Matthew Aucoin with an innovative staging of Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” with Mr. Aucoin conducting the Manhattan School of Music Chamber Sinfonia.

“The Orphic Moment” ends at the very instance when Orpheus loses Eurydice for a second time. Then, in a novel twist, audience members had a minibanquet: little servings of food placed on long wood panels poised on our knees. As we partook in this wedding feast for Orpheus and Eurydice, Mr. Aucoin conducted the orchestra in selected dance episodes from the opera. Meal over, Gluck’s “Orfeo” began.

Mr. Fitch’s gripping production of a trimmed version of the opera made a virtue of the space’s smallness. (In this arrangement, it had seats for just 145 people.) The orchestra players sat by the back wall. Above them was a wood platform, which became the stage for both dramas. It was thrilling, even sometimes frightening, to be so close when Mr. Costanzo, who combines a powerful voice with a charismatic presence, sent phrases soaring in both works.

Mr. Costanzo, a magnificent Orfeo, was joined by the sweet-voiced soprano Kiera Duffy as Euridice. The soprano Jana McIntyre, appearing in the balcony, was the god Amor. The chorus sang from National Sawdust’s entrance area. The performance stopped cold at the very instance in the opera at which Orfeo looks back, then an unearthly little coda for violin and orchestra by Mr. Aucoin provided a grimly dramatic end to the evening.

This modest production presents a vivid new spin on operatic performance. But why does it run for just two consecutive evenings, and for fewer than 300 people? 

Read the rest of the review here