GOSHEN, Ind. — Two Carthage Central School alumni will be performing in the opera “Orefeo ed Euridce” by Christoph Willibald Gluck at Goshen College.
Katy Thornthwaite and Bek Zehr are both involved in the college’s music program. Thornthwaite is a junior music education major, and Zehr, a senior music major and theatre minor, are both members of the Goshen College Orchestra, Chamber Choir and World Choir.
Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” first performed in 1762, is based on the myth of Orpheus. Grieved by the death of his wife, Eurydice, soon after their wedding, Orpheus begs the gods to bring her back to him. The gods are touched by Orpheus’ musical offerings and send Amore to convey a challenge for him. He must retrieve his bride from the underworld in order to bring her back to life, but he cannot look at her during the journey nor complain about this stipulation. In the original Greek myth, Orpheus’ fails this challenge but in Gluck’s version that is changed.
“Gluck’s plot-twisting adaptation celebrates the power of mercy,” Amy Budd, director and assistant professor of theatre, said in a press release. “It shows us a world where loving actions need not be perfect to succeed. In this comedic ending, the hero is brought back to the community for reconciliation and wholeness. It’s the perfect way to usher in the spring. It takes us all the way to Hades and back again. We return renewed to lift up one another in love and community.”
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the production was faced with challenges. Auditions were done virtually. In November at the close of the semester, each person submitted a minimum one-minute video recording in Italian for the judges to consider along with a Google application form. Actors were informed of their role in December and asked to order their music and begin preparations on the music. With the protocol of 30-minute vocal rehearsal followed by a 30-minute break for air filtration, it was important for each singer to be independently prepared.
Zehr was afforded the lead role of Orfeo, usually played by a mezzo-soprano.
“My character hardly leaves the stage,” Zehr said. “I have nine arias, one duet and 10 recitatives. So, my vocal and physical endurance are critical in this production. I started preparing my solos in December when I was home for our holiday break. This is my senior year and final production, so I wanted to forge the best performance possible as it will be important for any graduate studies.”
Thornthwaite is a soprano member of the chorus which involves some choral singing and lots of ballet.
“I am so thankful that I had 15 years of ballet with Dance World and Cindy Babel in Watertown,” she said. “Because it was an opera from 1762, it was developed to include the ballet as was most operas of that period. Scenes with the ‘Furies’ are particularly difficult because they involve intensive ballet with singing. The challenge is using the breath correctly for singing after the physical rigors of ballet. We also use singing masks which adds to the challenge.”
Thornthwaite also helps with some backstage construction and painting.
Masks and social distance are all part of the process in being able to perform in an opera this year, Zehr added.
“We cherish the opportunity to perform even though we must deal with changes in our sound, diction, projection and hearing because of the mask,” Zehr said. “It is not the same as before, but we are learning to rediscover how we sing and how to make it work. At times it is just getting beyond the psychological roadblocks and our own mindset. We must be resilient.”
“Orfeo ed Euridice” will be livestreamed at goshen.edu/livestream at 7:30 p.m. March 26 and 27 with a matinee performance on March 28 at 2:30 p.m. There is no cost, but guests are asked to sign up for virtual tickets at www.goshen.edu/academics/2021/03/12/orfeo-ed-euridice.