The Centro Cultura de Belém’s Grand Auditorium will host, this Thursday at 7 p.m., “Orphée”, a chamber opera in two acts, produced by CCB in partnership with the Municipal Theatre of Rio de Janeiro, and featuring the performance of Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra, conducted by Maestro Pedro Neves.
Fascinated by the films of the French director Jean Cocteau, which he watched as a teenager, still during the 50’s of the last century in Paris, it is already as one of the most important composers of his generation that the American Philip Glass decides to make a trilogy of adaptations after Cocteau’s work. The opera “Orphée” (1993), based on the 1949 film about the myth of Orpheus – poet and musician who moves heaven and earth to bring his beloved Eurydice back from the dead – was the first.
This is the opera that is brought to the stage this Thursday, “written in a cinematographic language, with characters that completely mess up the story”, describes André Cunha Leal, programmer of CCB. “It’s an opera that we felt was very appropriate for the times in which we are living, because it all takes place in the limbo between life and death, between one kingdom and the other. And, in fact, that’s what all of us, humanity, live these days. It is truly a crossroad and the opera deals with it very well”, he sustains.
This “Orphée” was planned to be shown last year, but the pandemic pushed it to 2022. “I’m glad it was because this is the year we celebrate 200 years of Brazil’s independence. So it turned out to be a happy coincidence”, notes Cunha Leal, who highlights the importance of this “Atlantic embrace”, as the director is the Brazilian Felipe Hirsch, who met Philip Glass in the 2000s.
The person responsible for the CCB’s classical music programme has no doubt that “the conditions are in place for a great performance”. “The group of singers is extraordinary and they will be accompanied by the Lisbon Metropolitan Orchestra, with whom we have worked so well in recent years. “Although it is performed by singers who are solely and exclusively Portuguese, it is a cast that could be anywhere in the world. Just think of Luís Gomes, who comes from abroad to play this role, André Baleiro, Susana Gaspar, Carla Caramujo. It is a cast with a lot of international experience that lifts opera in Portugal to a reference level”.
André Cunha Leal also highlights the role of Pedro Neves, conductor of Metropolitana, who, “apart from being a great conductor in all repertoires, one can perfectly understand when one watches the rehearsals, he dominates this language perfectly”. And he goes further: “That reveals itself, as I said, in the rehearsals, in the support he gives to the singers, in the assurance of his delivery. Pedro Neves could have done what many conductors do, which is to appear only in the last orchestra rehearsals, but no, he was there in all rehearsals”.
For Pedro Neves, “this is part of the working process. That process started in the previous weeks and culminates now to bring all the pieces of the puzzle together”, he says. The Metropolitana’s artistic director recognises that this “is a great challenge for the orchestra”. “It’s repetitive music from a rhythmic point of view, which somehow mesmerises people. Trying to marry this musical side with the scene that is happening on stage, which also has its own specificities, is the great challenge”. The maestro has no doubts in considering this “an unusual opera, different from the traditional idea one has of an opera” and therefore, he underlines, it is necessary that the audience has “an open mind” to absorb the show.
André Cunha Leal hopes that this will be “the first of many joint opera productions between CCB and Metropolitana”. “As Metropolitana is a historical partner of the Centro Cultural de Belém, I think it makes perfect sense that, in certain types of operas, Metropolitana is the natural orchestra”, he considers, even because, he confesses, “there has been the desire to take Metropolitana to the main stage with opera for a long time”.
“The truth is that Metropolitana has done opera at CCB, either through the Opera Studio or through Cosi Fan Tutte, which we dared to do together during the pandemic, between confinements, and which was a success. And we realised that Metropolitana has unbelievable potential to be able to do opera. It is one of the best national orchestras, with an incredible security, and opera is an additional challenge for an orchestra which is very used to symphonic and chamber programmes”, says the CCB programmer.
He guarantees that he has seen “the growth of Metropolitana with very good eyes”. “Despite everything, and the serious problems it has had since its foundation, Metropolitana has managed in the last five or six years to become one of the most relevant orchestras on the national panorama, if not the most relevant. Because it knew how to choose its soloists very well, because it knew how to create stability in its orchestra, something that does not happen with other similar orchestras of reference, and because it adopted a working mechanism that allows it to be what it is today”.