Excitement is in the air and preparations are in full swing for the opening of Lyric’s 63rd season on Saturday, September 23.
Orphée et Eurydice, the hauntingly beautiful opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-87), interprets the ancient Greek myth of poet-musician Orpheus braving the terrors of Hades to rescue his beloved bride Eurydice. Gluck originally wrote this opera in Italian, then revised it extensively for its 1774 Paris premiere, adding significant dance scenes.
Lyric’s general director Anthony Freud, a great champion of creative crosstown partnerships, chose Orphée et Eurydice for the first-ever production by Lyric with The Joffrey Ballet. To create the new production, Freud engaged the legendary choreographer John Neumeier, longtime artistic director of the Hamburg Ballet. (The Milwaukee native trained in Northbrook and Chicago with Sybil Shearer and Ruth Page, and danced in Lyric’s world-premiere production of Giannini’s The Harvest in 1961.)
Neumeier is a virtual one-man creative team, serving as director, choreographer, and designer of sets, costumes, and lighting. The sets were built close to home at Studio Hamburg Atelier, overseen by Heinrich Tröger, associate set designer.
All 200 costumes for Orphée et Eurydice were built or bought in Chicago, notes Kristi Wood, costume project coordinator for new operas at Lyric. About 170 costumes were constructed at The Joffrey Ballet over the summer, and several fabrics used in those costumes were dyed at Steppenwolf Theatre. Custom tailor Paul Chang also created a few suits for the new production.
The 20 female dancers’ pointe shoes were custom made by Capezio and Freed, as is customary for Joffrey’s corps de ballet, says Gregg Benkovich, Joffrey’s wardrobe assistant and shoe manager. He notes that each dancer will go through “only” three or four pairs during this production. “It’s not Swan Lake, which eats pointe shoes — one pair per show,” he says.
Neumeier has fully reimagined Orphée et Eurydice “in the present tense as a modern piece, done in modern dress.” The choreography was created in the present tense over the course of three weeks in August, in an atmosphere of intense concentration in daily dance rehearsals at the Joffrey studio: “I am a very spontaneous person. I find answers in the work. I find the solutions by doing, by moving, by sweating.”
The week of August 21 the Lyric Opera Chorus started in on the music, and concurrently technical rehearsals began in the theater, with Neumeier moving between director’s table and stage to finetune the lighting design and coordination of scenic components. Singers, dancers, chorus members, creative team associates, stage management, music staff, and Neumeier converged in Lyric’s main rehearsal room and dance studio the final week of August to kick off the staging rehearsals. The week of September 11 rehearsals will move to the stage, and the Lyric Opera Orchestra will begin its preparations. The week of September 18 it will all come together, in stage-orchestra rehearsals, dress rehearsals, and finally...opening night on September 23.
The goal, Neumeier says, “is to combine chorus, ballet, soloists, constantly moving scenery and lighting, and music (which is glorious) in order to communicate something that is simply, basically beautiful.”