A bonus of the late April weekend in the Twin Cities was the staging of Ricky Ian Gordon’s
Orpheus and Euridice in Minneapolis’ beautifully restored Plantages Theater.
Although the work, only an hour in length, qualifies as a song cycle with words and music both
by Gorden, it is wiser to place it in the larger — if vague — category of music theater.
Libretto for re-telling of one of the world’s greatest love stories was written while Gordon
watched his then-partner die of AIDS. He wrote the text in a single nocturnal outburst of
creativity; the score for soprano, piano and clarinet followed. Originally produced and
presented by Lincoln Center for the Performing arts as part of the American Songbook and New
Vision series, the work was premiered at Rose Theater in 2006.
Musicians for the Minneapolis performance were soprano Norah Long, pianist Mindy Eschedor and
clarinetist Pat O’Keefe. A co-production of the Minnesota Dance Theater and Nautilus
Music-Theater eight dancers were choreographed by Cynthia Gutierrez-Garner.
Long, with a full-bodied voice with of special color and grit, offered a gripping account of
Gordon’s text. And — cleverly — she acted as a member of the dance ensemble, distinguished
from her colleagues only by a flower on her simple dress. Rather than telling the story in any
literal way the dancers reflected on and reacted music and text in large sweeping motions. The
first half of the work celebrated the exuberance of great love. Only with death did the
dancers turn to the plot as Euridice died in the arms of Orpheus.
Especially effective was the shadow play of the dancers as they moved across the Styx behind
diaphanous screens. In this poignant staging the work, choreographed originally by Doug Verone
for his New York troupe, was a further triumph for Gordon, who has found a home away from home
in the Twin Cities.
Grapes of Wrath was successfully premiered by Minnesota Opera in February 2008. It
was then on stage at Utah Opera; further performances are scheduled by Pittsburgh Opera, Opera
Pacific, Anchorage Opera and the University of Indiana.
Some speak of Gordon as “the new Sondheim.” It is perhaps more valid to celebrate him as the
first Ricky Ian Gordon. Orpheus and Euridice was recorded on a Records disc by the
original cast: soprano Elizabeth Futral, pianist Melvin Chen and clarinetist Todd Palmer. In
an expanded version that included a string quartet Orpheus was staged by Long Beach Opera in
the city‘s Plaza Olympic Pool.