If you could bring back to life the love of your life who has died, would you do it? What if you couldn’t look at them? What if they thought you had changed? What if you had? Then what if they didn’t want to come back to life? Or should the dead just be dead and we ought to just get over it?
The Seattle Opera’s new production of O+E, an adaptation of Gluck’s 18th-century “Orpheus and Eurydice,” doesn’t answer those questions, but it makes you think about them all until it kind of kills you.
There’ve been a million versions of the story (including more than 50 operas!) and they don’t all end the same. In some of them Orpheus, because he plays his lyre so beautifully, and is aided by the god of Love, gets to rescue his gal from the underworld; in others he has to die to be with her. In others he comes back to the land of the living alone.
In this girl-on-girl chamber version, adapted and conducted by Lucy Tucker Yates, who also wrote the libretto, O (Orpheus) is waiting at the bedside of E (Eurydice), her wife. E is about to go into surgery. A (Amore) is a doctor (in Gluck’s version it’s the god of Love). The opening scene is spare and sad—a light above an immobile patient in bed, and her grieving wife sitting bedside her.
Behind them is a plastic curtain through which you can obscurely see the orchestra and chorus, and dancers in scrubs with clipboards or coffee, or on their phones walking quickly, distracted, then suddenly turning and rushing like you do in a hospital when there’s an emergency. This is O and E’s story we’re being shown, but also the story of everyone else who is waiting, afraid that someone they love will die. O sits and remembers and grieves and dreams of the past she has had with her wife, and hopes she will stay with her.
Soprano Tess Altiveros, who was last seen as Clorinda in Seattle Opera’s The Combat, is great here again. Even though her role of E is smaller than that of O, she kind of steals the show. But so do the dancers, and so does the concept, the lighting, all the umbrellas, especially the one with the light bulb inside the top of it that lets you see someone’s face which without it would be in shadow.
If you came back to life would you still be yourself? Or only a sort of self? If you could, would you want to? If the person who loved you seemed changed?
The end of this startling production does not give you easy answers. You’ll keep thinking of it, remembering, and hoping you never have to hope to bring back to life the person you love.
O+E runs through June 10.