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Laura Recaps: Orfeo ed Euridice


For some reason, my art class this semester is centered around the depressing Greek legend of Orpheus. As such, I got the chance to watch (well... was made to watch) the goofy seventies opera production of "Orfeo and Euridice" by the amusingly-named Christoph Gluck. And I took very detailed notes... too detailed.

The Story of Orpheus

I don't know if you've read the ancient Greek legend of Orpheus, but it goes something like this: Orpheus, superstar lyre player and singer, marries a girl, Eurydice, but she died. Orpheus, broken up, decides to go to the underworld to rescue her. His musical skills come in handy convincing people to let him have his way. Hades says he can have Euridice back as long as they both get through this long dark cavern back to the world of the living--and he can't look at her until they've made it through. But for whatever reason, he fails at this rather simple task, and she's taken away from him. Feeling totally screwed over, Orpheus sings sad sad songs. There's more, with people beating him up and his head floating down the river, but it varies from telling to telling.

Orfeo ed Euridice

The video starts with stills of the play as credit cards come up. Already I can tell it's the 1970s. I don't know if it's the bright colors or the cheesy backgrounds, but the whole thing just oozes a 1970s vibe. Everyone is wearing togas, but it feels like bell bottoms wouldn't be out of place. As we get shots of a curly-headed Orfeo look downward, I think "At least he's young and cute in this version." The second shot I noted an upturned nose and thin arms and legs and I thought "Orpheus looks like a girl." By the third shot I had realized the wonderful truth:


          Okay, so it's a girl playing a boy, but actress Janet Baker (no relation to Tom, as afar as I know) is so clearly a woman that this play throws you into a Peter Pan / Mr. B Natural confusion loop. The lesbian angle makes this story more interesting, anyway.

          The credit stills continue for way too long. Finally, it's Act I, "A grove by the tomb of Euridice." We focus on a broken lyre. Pulling out, we see that Orfeo, wearing adorable boots that show off her/his sexy girly legs, is sitting on the ground, grieving. He sings about how upset he is that Euridice is dead, and some villager extras chorus behind him. Finally he basically tells them to leave their flowers and get out, because he wants to be alone with "the pitiless company of [his] misfortunes." Just don't turn on that one No Doubt album where Gwen Stefani won't shut up about how that boy left her that one time, no matter how much you think you want to. You don't.

          Orfeo sings for about a million minutes about how damn sad he is, and I want to hit fast forward, but I keep thinking it must be almost over. After all, he sings "Euridice is gone"; he's at the final stage of grief, Acceptance. But abruptly he shifts into anger, yelling at the gods for snatching away his lady love. He comes up with the bright idea of wandering to the Underworld, and-- clap your hands if you believe in fairies, because if the God of Love was played by a man, he'd be a big pink flaming one.

          Yup, Amor is descending from the heavens on a dinky floating cloud, wearing a loud hot pink mid-thigh-length toga and gold boots. She says the gods have taken pity on Orfeo and gives him a new lyre to replace the old broken one. Because "understated dignity" is meaningless to the gods, the new lyre--which puzzlingly has no strings--is shiny and gold, and looks like if you peeled back the foil you'd have a delicious chocolate treat. It's also HUGE. Really emphasizes Orfeo's tiny spindly girl arms.

          Orfeo is understandably bemused, and asks the Italian operatic aria version of "Whaaa?" Amor floats around on her tiny cloud like a big pink jackass and explains the conditions: go to the underworld, be courageous, dark cavern, can't look at Euridice till you're firmly in the world of the living, blah de blah. She also seems to imply that Orfeo can't speak to Euridice in the cave, but that's apparently open to interpretation, as we see later on.

          After Amor putters away on the Nimbusmobile, Orfeo sings an agonizingly long monologue which basically amounts to "I'm really gonna get my shnookums back? Sweet!" Accustomed as I am with the tragic ending of the legend, I warn, "Don't get your hopes up, hon," but she doesn't seem to hear me. Instead, she sings something about holding Euridice to her breast once more, and I snicker. As the song goes on, I realize it's been about ten minutes since I saw any subtitles. But I guess "Aaaa, aaaaa, aaaaaaaAAaaAaAAAAAAaaaa, aa, aa!" is the same in any language.

          Finally, we arrive at Act II. The title card reads "The Gates of Hell"--and yup, those are some gates of hell: a big portcullis outlined against a smoky red-lit atmosphere. Eerie-looking person-creatures climb over the portcullis and writhe around on the ground like a human stew of suffering. They're wearing full bodysuits covered in patchy fur and have dark circles around their eyes, and they keep climbing on things. For lack of a better term (because none exists), I'm going to call them Insane Zombie Monkeys.

          Insane Zombie Monkeys can dance apparently--as Orfeo wanders up to the gates of hell with his giant-ass lyre, they cartwheel around, showing off. Orfeo looks understandably perturbed. She sings to them, and they seem to calm down a bit, but then they start pulling at her clothes and swarming around her until I expect her to cry "There's too little of me; heal yourselves!"

          Whatever happened in the first verse is repeated, but without subtitles this time, because apparently I'm supposed to have a perfect memory. (Or to have paid attention, instead of trying to figure out what the girl beside me in the Media Center was watching...) I vaguely wonder why the Insane Zombie Monkeys keep shouting "NO!", but, oops, my finger slipped on the way to the rewind key, and I watch the rest of the untranslated song-n-dance on fast forward. Even then, I seriously begin to believe that these Monkeys will NEVER STOP DANCING.

          You know, something about naked swarming hairy guys piling up in a giant orgiastic heap, writhing and flashing their tufty asses seems sexual, somehow.

          Through the whole ordeal, Orfeo just stands there in the doorway, clutching the lyre, perhaps planning on beaning one of the monkeys if they get too close again. But all they seem interested in doing is dancing with each other while Orfeo stands there watching like an idiot, even when the gate opens and he's free to go. He just stands there, fascinated. Finally, shortly after I shout "Move your bloomin' arse, Orpheus!", much to the consternation of the other students in the Media Center, Orfeo hightails it out of there.

Stay turned for Part II...


- Laura