Orpheus & Euridice: Opera News, 2007

At first, one might think Orpheus has given up his mythic lyre for a clarinet in Ricky Ian Gordon’s haunting two-act song cycle Orpheus & Euridice. But Gordon means something a lot less literal and more poignant here; the clarinet is not so much the instrument Orpheus plays as the sound of his inner music – his longing, joy and pain. And in the hands of clarinetist Todd Palmer, the point is beautifully made.

In 1995, Palmer approached Gordon with the suggestion that he compose a piece for clarinet, soprano and piano, a modern answer to Schubert’s Der Hirt auf dem Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock). At the time, Gordon’s partner was dying from AIDS, and the composer wasn’t sure he was up to the assignment. Then one morning, Gordon woke up with the inspiration to cast Palmer and his clarinet as Orpheus, grieving a Euridice plagued with a virus rhat takes her away. The piece was first staged at Cooper Union in Manhattan in 2001; the current recording is based on Gotdon’s expansion of Orpheus, as staged by Doug Varone at Lincoln Center in 2005.

Gordon claims to have written the libretto in one hour, but there’s nothing facile about it. Graceful, soulful, inspired and personal, it sets the Orpheus story in a modern context. This couple gets a little more time on earth than the fabled pair – plus a house, a garden and a chance to dance (an interlude in which pianist Melvin Chen sets the clarinetist Palmer free). Soprano Elizabeth Futral delivers the story’s third-person narracion with full emotional involvement, as well as singing the song Orpheus wrote for Euridice, "I am parr of something now."

When death takes Euridice away, Orpheus follows her to a hell "you had to pass through. Like life, you had to traverse through the night / To circumnavigate the light." He makes his deal and brings her back but of course cannot resisr looking back any more than any grieving lover can resist looking back. Euridice disappears, and Orpheus is torn apart – would that this CD could let us see Doug Varone’s choreography. Music born of grief and sorrow becomes its own consolation. Taking a myth that is irresistible to composers, Gordon has written a song cycle that makes great theater. In this recording, Futral’s voice is ripe with yearning, and pianist Melvin Chen is sharp and tuneful – but it is Todd Palmer who proves that a clarinet can charm the gods as it revives the soul.

– Rick Hamlin, Opera News, 1 March 2007