New production of Gluck’s ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ for San Francisco Opera

Meigui Zhang and Jakub Józef Orliński (with dancers) in the title roles of Gluck’s ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’ © Matthew Washburn/San Francisco Opera

San Francisco Opera presents the original 1762 Viennese edition of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice (Orfeo ed Eurydice) in a new staging by Matthew Ozawa. This production stars countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński as Orpheus, soprano Meigui Zhang as Eurydice and soprano Nicole Heaston as Amore. The conductor is Peter Whelan.

The classical Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice was set to music by Gluck in 1762, with a libretto by Italian poet and librettist Ranieri de’ Calzabigi. It tells of the journey to the Underworld by the musician Orpheus of Thrace who – enduring immeasurable grief following the death of his beloved Eurydice on the day of their wedding – vows to bring her back. In their pity for him, the gods allow Orpheus to travel to the land of the dead on one condition – that on the journey back to the land of the living, he neither looks back at Eurydice or explains why he is unable to do so.

Jakub Józef Orliński as Orpheus in Gluck’s ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Ozawa’s production portrays the journey of Orpheus as his passage through the various stages of grief, and what makes it unusual is that it focuses on two elements – his memories of Eurydice and the landscape of his mind. To depict the first, Ozawa views the relationship of the lovers in what he terms as “richly athletic dance” – in which they are portrayed by two dancers, with choreography by Rena Butler, in her house debut. To demonstrate the mind of Orpheus, Ozawa has collaborated with physicians from the University of California San Francisco to recreate the brain scans of individuals who have experienced trauma, a basis on which the set and project design, by Alexander V Nichols, has been created.

Jakub Józef Orliński as Orpheus with the San Francisco Opera Chorus in Gluck’s ‘Orpheus and Eurydice © Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Polish countertenor Jakub Józef Orliński is described by The Times as “the toast of the countertenor world … with a flexibility and dramatic sense that bring individuality and multiple colours to everything he sings”. A noted break-dancer and internet sensation, he has won critical acclaim for his sold-out concerts and recitals throughout Europe and the United States, as well as for his recordings, and is the recipient of an Opus Klassik award for Solo Vocal Recording. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, “His singing ….. boasts a golden coloration that lends it a sumptuous fullness. It’s vivacious, tender and utterly ravishing.”

Meigui Zhang and Jakub Józef Orliński (with dancers) in the title roles of Gluck’s ‘Orpheus and Eurydice © Matthew Washburn/San Francisco Opera

Meigui Zhang made her Company debut in June 2022 as Dai Yu in Bright Sheng and David Henry Hwang’s Dream of the Red Chamber. Other recent highlights include appearances at the Metropolitan Opera as Thibault in Verdi’s Don Carlos and as Barbarina in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro. On the concert stage, Ms Zhang toured China, and whilst a participant in San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program she gave a highly acclaimed performance as Anne Trulove in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress.

Act II of Gluck’s ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

With her “… warm and supple soprano …” (Houston Chronicle), Nicole Heaston has appeared with companies such as the Metropolitan Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Dallas Opera, Washington National Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Semperoper Dresden, Düsseldorf’s Deutsche Oper am Rhein and at the Glyndebourne Festival. She recently appeared with San Francisco Opera as Countess Almaviva in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, and as Despina in his Così fan tutte, and she began the current season as Claire Devon in Mazzoli/Vavrek’s The Listeners at Den Norkse Opera.

Jakub Józef Orliński as Orpheus and a dancer in Gluck’s ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Matthew Ozawa, stage director, artistic director and educator, is regarded as one of the foremost creative forces in the opera world today, and a master storyteller. The New York Times writes of his “strikingly spare productions” and Opera News describes them as “a vivid demonstration of what opera is all about”. In addition to San Francisco Opera, he has staged productions for companies such as Lyric Opera of Chicago, Santa Fe Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Opera Theatre of St. Louis, San Diego Opera, Carnegie Hall and The Kennedy Center.

Conductor, keyboardist and solo bassoonist, Peter Whelan makes his American debut in these performances of Orpheus and Eurydice. He is Artistic Director of the Irish Baroque Orchestra and founding Artistic Director of Ensemble Marsyas in Edinburgh, and has a particular interest in exploring and championing neglected music from the baroque era.

Costumes for this production are by Jessica Jahn, and lighting is by Yuki Nakase Link.

The finale of Gluck’s ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’
© Cory Weaver/San Francisco Opera

Peter Whelan leads the soloists and the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and Chorus (Chorus Director John Keene) in this production of Orpheus and Eurydice. Sung in Italian with English supertitles, it runs at the War Memorial Opera House until December 1. Further information and details of reservations are available on the San Francisco Opera website.

The performance of Orpheus and Eurydice on Sunday, November 20 will be livestreamed at 2.00 pm (PT). It will be available to watch on-demand for 48 hours from Monday, November 21 at 10.00 am (PT). For tickets – which are available now – or more information about livestreams of San Francisco Opera’s 2022 Fall Season, visit

Information sourced from:
San Francisco Opera program notes
English National Opera programme notes

Artists’ websites:

Matthew Ozawa

Jakub Józef Orliński

Meigui Zhang

Nicole Heaston

Peter Whelan

ArtsPreview home page

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