Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice” is the oldest “standard rep” opera still being regularly performed and one which revolutionized musical theatre in its day. The problem is, if you are doing the original version that Gluck wrote for male castrato, who to cast in the lead? Leading mezzo-sopranos have made it a trouser role, and that is the sound that most of us are used to. With the early-music revival of recent years, however, genuine countertenors have emerged, or men who develop falsetto voices to an extraordinary degree. David Daniels is one of the hottest countertenors out and about these days, and it made sense for Lyric to try and engage him for a new production of “Orfeo.” What stops things cold, however, is that as interesting a timbre as Daniels has, he is struggling to be heard across such a cavernous house, about three times the size of a typical European opera house, especially in Gluck’s day. This is not a new problem, and is why Luciano Pavarotti hated coming to Lyric and was ultimately banished for canceling too often because he couldn’t be heard well across the house. Cecilia Bartoli, another beautiful but medium-sized voice, won’t even come to Lyric. The irony is that Daniels sounded great singing Handel here a few years ago, when he used his artistry for elaborate ornamentation that flattered his voice. With Gluck, the lines are plain and simple, and the voice is naked up there with nothing to hold onto. The result is a voice that has to push to be heard and a resulting dynamic sameness at odds with the high drama going on. Were this production being done in a smaller venue, then perhaps we could hear what Daniels could really do with this role. Not helping matters is a bleak and colorless staging that would take a piece such as the famous “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” and reduce it to virtually motionless horizontal corpses shedding shrouds. If that’s choreography, no wonder the long dance finale was mercifully and wisely cut. (Dennis Polkow)
Lyric Opera, Wacker Drive at Madison, (312)332-2244. Through March 26.