Meredith Lustig, Daniel Teadt, Joélle Harvey, and Catherine Miller  in Orpheus
(© Carol Rosegg)
Meredith Lustig, Daniel Teadt, Joélle Harvey, and Catherine Miller in Orpheus
(© Carol Rosegg)
With the extremely well-sung production of Georg Philipp Telemann's only recently turned-up Orpheus, now at El Museo del Barrio, the New York City Opera under George Steele gives further evidence of knowing where its reconstituted strengths lie. The work, which wasn't discovered until 1978, is not only an example of Telemann exploring new melodic territory while at the top of his familiar form but also an unusually intriguing trilingual (German, French, Italian) treatment of the Orpheus myth.

This revamped version retains the plight of mesmerizing musician Orpheus (baritone Daniel Teadt) losing his beloved Eurydice (soprano Joelle Harvey) and then losing her again when, retrieving her from Hades, he looks back at her after being warned he mustn't before completely quitting the gloomy subterranean realm.

The Telemann twist is that his baroque approach is based on Michel Du Boullay's 1690 French lyric tragedy in which jealous Queen Orasia (soprano Jennifer Rowley) -- queen of what we never know -- has an unquenchable passion for Orpheus and contrives to get Eurydice out of the way by dispatching a poisonous serpent (dancer Catherine Miller) to do her in. The remonstrating woman is foiled herself when Orpheus, returning empty-handed from a Hades ruled by Pluto (Nicolas Pallesen), declares he's prepared to die in order to rejoin his bride.

For the most part, director Rebecca Taichman and designer David Zinn make simplicity a major virtue; the first-act set looks like a three-sided Andy Warhol painting of red flowers and the second act one is like an unadorned corporate office with the odd bare branch poking up. (Unfortunately, it appears as if the troupe is performing in a furniture storage area.) Meanwhile, Taichman keeps her cast in Zinn's elegant modern dress, perhaps the most eye-catching item being the wide-skirted lace number in which Miller undulates.

While there were a few strained high notes at the opening night, Rowley, Teadt and Harvey infused their singing with color and drama, as did tenor Victor Ryan Robertson, mezzo Daryl Freedman, soprano Michelle Areyzaga, and, especially baritone Pallesen, who's someone to keep a close eye on.

There is one notable flaw in this Orpheus. At no time does Orpheus -- who sings "I want nothing but my lyre" -- carry an instrument to indicate his mythic talent. It's an oversight, to be sure, but one made small by the accomplishments of the rest of the admirable production.