L'Arpeggiata / Christina Pluhar ORFEO CHAMÁN

The ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice has had rich resonances in the modern world, ranging from balladry to the play by Vinícius de Moraes and its spectacular film adaptation. The latest entry into this tradition is Orfeo Chamán, composed and led in performance by theorbist Christina Pluhar. Like Moraes, Pluhar sets her Orpheus story in Latin America and draws on non-European belief systems: in Moraes' case Afro-Brazilian, in Pluhar's pre-Columbian. The work's title means Orpheus Shaman, and instead of going to the underworld to search for his Eurydice, he enters a world populated by the souls of inanimate objects. Although it's been called an opera and has been staged as one, Orfeo Chamán only occasionally reflects the action of the text, by Colombian poet Hugo Chaparro Valderrama. Instead, the work consists of a series of set pieces with little climaxes of strong emotion; "cantata" would be a better word for it. There are four solo parts, for Orpheus, Eurydice, Orpheus' half-brother Aristaeus, and a nahual, a figure in South American beliefs who can accompany a human visiting the spirit world. Most interesting is the mix of genres in Pluhar's music, which somewhat resembles the combination of Baroque and popular materials in some of Jordi Savall's recordings, but consists entirely of original material except for a few traditional dance tunes. This is an accomplishment in itself; you might easily think you were listening to material hundreds of years old, and the range of music Pluhar has mastered is impressive. The accompaniments, from ensemble ground bass pieces to simple folk harmonies, are likewise strikingly varied yet coherent. The end result is a work that catches the ear and then stays in the brain as you begin to appreciate just how difficult it was to pull off. (James manheim)


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