Portland Opera premiere reflects an ancient, surreal story
by: George Mott, Portland Opera's “Orphée,” starring Philip Cutlip as Orphée and Lisa Saffer as the Princess, will take place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6, 12 and 14, and 2 p.m. Nov. 8 at Keller Auditorium.

Writer/radio contributor Marc Acito, returning to the stage after a six-year hiatus, has only a bit part in Portland Opera's 'Orphée.'

But it's significant in his eyes. He plays Glazier the glassmaker, who greets Orphée upon his arrival in the Underworld as he seeks reunion with his wife Eurydice.

'He goes through a mirror, and the first person he sees is a glassmaker,' Acito says. 'It's a really, wacky, almost random moment in the play. I sing, 'Vitrier!' - glassmaker.'

Acito, a two-time novelist and playwright and frequent contributor to National Public Radio, says opera fans should not miss 'Orphée,' based on the 1949 movie and scored by Philip Glass.

'It's dramatic, very compelling, very short - hour and a half,' Acito says. 'People sometimes get intimidated by Philip Glass, his difficult works, but it's gorgeous music. I've been lucky as a writer, to sit and work on my next book in the rehearsal hall, listening to it.

'It's a huge deal, I can't stress how sublimely gorgeous this music is and how easy the opera is to follow. It's not avant- garde, it's surreal and dreamy. This is a major cultural event happening (in Portland).'

'Orphée' will take place at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 6, 12 and 14, and 2 p.m. Nov. 8 at Keller Auditorium.

Compelling story

Acito, 43, and several other locals are taking part in the opera, including Carl Halvorson, a Lewis and Clark professor. Sam Helfrich is the director.

Acito's role has about two minutes of stage time.

'It's interesting because 'Orphée' is about a writer, and I bought a place in New York,' he says. 'What's freaky to me is the apartment I just bought looks suspiciously like the set of this opera.'

Geared toward young people, and inspired by Jean Cocteau's 1949 film re-telling of the Orpheus myth, 'Orphée' was originally staged at Glimmerglass in upstate New York. It's part of a Glass trilogy. Portland shows will be the West Coast premiere.

It's about the death of a young poet-singer's wife, and the husband who got distracted by the mysterious Princess of Death and her chauffeur, Heurtebise. Taken to the Underworld, Orphée and Eurydice are able to be released, if the husband never looks at his wife again; but the Princess of Death sacrifices herself to send the two back to the world of the living.

'It's a beautiful, moving and compelling story,' says Christopher Mattaliano, Portland Opera general director, 'and a testimony to love and fidelity in a relationship. It's a spirited, expressive and engaging opera from one of America's most prominent composers.'

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