Anne Manson / Portland Opera Orchestra

Philip Glass: Orphée

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Philip Glass has taken a slightly different approach to each of his three operas based on films by Jean Cocteau. For La Belle et la Bête (1994), he replaced the entire soundtrack with a new score to be performed live by the Philip Glass Ensemble and opera singers along with the film, with the vocal lines calculated to be coordinated precisely with rhythms of the film's spoken text. With choreographer Susan Marshall he adapted Les Enfants Terribles (1996) into a dance opera for four singers and three pianos. The most conventionally operatic is Orphée (1993), which retains much of the shape and dialogue of the original, but is scored for small orchestra and singers and would fit comfortably into the repertoire of an adventurous opera company. The music is unmistakably Glass, but has some of the Romantic, overtly expressive sweep of works like La Belle et la Bête. Cocteau's very strange retelling of the story of Orpheus and Eurydice in a modern setting is inescapably compelling, and the music is highly effective in driving home its potent, complex emotions. Glass' text-setting of other languages is more effective than his frequently clunky settings of English, and his handling of the French text, particularly toward the end of the opera, has a bittersweet tenderness and elegance reminiscent of Poulenc. The Portland (Oregon) Opera, in its first commercial recording, makes a strong impression in this premiere recording of the opera. The Portland Opera Orchestra plays beautifully under the leadership of Anne Manson, and Glass' instrumentation is more nuanced than it sometimes is in his works scored for traditional orchestra. Sopranos Lisa Saffer as La Princesse and Georgia Jarman as Eurydice sing with lovely tone and create rounded, sympathetic characters. Baritone Phillip Cutlip and tenor Ryan McPherson are comparably effective dramatically, but are less persuasive vocally; Cutlip's tone is sometimes cloudy and McPherson sounds forced toward the top of his range. The sound is exceptionally clean and well-defined for a live recording.

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