In an S.O.S.
From the outset of Michael Levine’s “Eurydice,” Op. 84, you know what that meaning is. When you see it in action, you are undoubtedly struck by a sense of transcendence, a sense of sending you careening to a place of sadness, but also being refreshed and enriched by having something wonderful in which to dwell for days and weeks after.
The composer of “Eurydice” is one of the leading American composers of the past decade. His last two works, “Fates Island” and “Opus Seven,” both of which premiered at the Met in 2010, brought gushy praise and standing ovations. Subsequently, Levine’s new work won a Grammy for Best Classical Compendium.
While most Mozart operas fit an obvious mold, “Eurydice” seems to be a sonic symphony in which the score’s evocation of the darkness beneath the surface impresses from the moment that you hear it. Levine opens the opening with an uncanny sonority that fills the New York Philharmonic’s dark hall. The instrumentation, as well as the orchestra, acquits itself well from start to finish.
The second movement — “Be Happy” — hums along efficiently, and from the moment the soprano Sarah Connolly enters the stage, you feel as if she is the conductor herself, painting a picture for you, and making every sight, every sound, look like a near-perfect expression of the composer’s ideas and philosophy.
In the third, “Part-year,” the orchestra slides along what might be called the movement toward apocalypse, which it just about achieves. Its reach is impossibly long.
The fourth movement, “Youth,” is like Ellis Island to lightening, its music having an imperial feel. In this repeated theme, it is a pilgrimage, a coming-of-age as we try to understand the nature of goodness and love. But the fourth is given a restless, less predictable flow in the fifth movement, “Part-year.”
“Here Comes My Mother” combines lyricism with singer/musician John Wagner, not originally part of the opera company. Wagner invites us to the Beaumarchais “lost to God” type-version of society, where Christianity is treated with contempt — at one point, God is referred to as “My Birthday.”
Final flourish comes in the last movement, and you can see him there playing a piano, and in fact he did, and sings “Dear Danube,” and in it, the drummer of the Beaumarchais society of Savoyas, a man named Menga, gives a pained soliloquy that entreats God to bless the workers of the Danube.
Despite its melancholy and holiday feel, “Eurydice” is not altogether bleak. Connolly (as much as she can) emphasizes the love stories, but Wagner sings that love lives on, and he plays the piano at the right times, which has a strumming quality that shines throughout the score.
Levine wrote “Eurydice” in association with the Farm Fresh label, and a growing number of modernists seem to be taking its cue from it. He does succeed in creating a synthesized music to stir both the most creative individual and the most religious of listeners to new heights.