Steven Mackey is far from the first composer to try his hand at the Orpheus myth, but he may be the first to treat it in what he calls a wordless opera for electric guitar. The piece, “Orpheus Unsung,” which also has a drum part written with Jason Treuting of So Percussion, came to Princeton University last weekend as part of the inauguration of its new Lewis Center for the Arts. Although the music doesn’t quite justify its label as opera — and Arcade Fire deserves some credit for the marriage of the myth and electric guitar in “It’s Never Over (Hey Orpheus)” — it was sometimes beautifully descriptive. Take, for example, Act II, “Sub Terra,” in which Orpheus goes to the underworld for his beloved Eurydice. Mr. Mackey, using loop pedals to give himself the sound of a small ensemble, creates an unsettling hellscape with descending phrases that vividly evoke Orpheus’s journey.
– Joshua Barone
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© 21C Media Group, September 2017