Review: 'Orfeas2021' a Digital Age (and Politically Topical) Take on a Classic Opera

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Saturday April 2, 2022

'Orfeas2021'  (Source:FYTA)

With "Orfeas 2021," director Fil Ieropoulos oversees a radically modern take on Moneverdi's "L'Orfeo" that addresses contemporary politics (through a libretto by Adriana Minou and Foivos Dousos) and envisions the struggle of freedom against totalitarianism as literally a life-or-death proposition.

In the traditional tale, a heartbroken musician, Orfeo (sung here by baritone Georgios Iatrou) is so determined to rescue his lover from the clutches of death that he ventures to the Underworld.

Only, in this case, Orfeo is gay, the Underworld is inhabited by digital phantasms, and it's a open question as to whether he's searching for a same-sex take on the usual Euridice... in this case, Euri (Antonis Stamopoulos)... or, more metaphorically, Europe, as in the Eurozone, a unified coalition of states that enables goods, capital, and people to move freely across borders and helps ensure peace.

Naturally, politics gives rise to factions, and factions to extremism; all of that is here, though in exactly what form is a little unclear. Is the danger from a trio of hacker anarchists whose video manifesto infiltrates the behind-the-scenes preparations for an opera (or maybe this opera... or perhaps the cast and crew we see behind the scenes are government officials)? Is it in the form of a band of virtual reality ghosts that haunt Orfeo once he dons a VR headset during his trek to Hades? Is it the more traditional ghost who pops up at one point, like a populist politician's dusty and nebulous rallying cry to imaginary "better times?" Is it the spirits of Hellas and Oxi — one a knee-jerk nationalist, the other a "Spirit of Negation and Resistance" — who inhabit a video game realm? How about that guy who looks a bit like Pinhead from "Hellraiser," with dead-white makeup, minus the pins (instead, his skin seems to flaking off him)? Is everyone except Orfeo a villain in some sense?

There's plenty of room for imaginative interpretation here, though sometimes you might be tempted to shut out the torrent of visual stimulation and focus on the music, which — aside from some deliberately distorted, overly-electronic passages — is beautiful, and, using modern instruments and studio techniques, often eerie.

Citing AIDS and Stonewall, Orfeo is clearly haunted by more than the memory of his beloved (not to mention an electronically-voiced, disembodied head that ushers in, and, later, closes out the opera). But is he an activist? A lyric soul wounded by loss? Or another toxic male looking to assert his privilege (as in Sarah Ruhl's 2003 Eurydice-centric stage version of the Greek legend)? Iatrou is a gifted singer, and his performance carries the show (though it takes a while to get there; first we have to puzzle over a group of characters costumed like escapees from "Logan's Run" who didn't quite make it and ended up in some sort of online purgatory).

The opera's imaginative CGI work notwithstanding, the non-digital visuals are far and away the best; if staged as a traditional work, the set design and scenic elements would enrapture with the best of them, Iatrou's performance captivates, and the makeup work is stunning. For a digitized reworking, this film proves one thing beyond dispute: Old-school rules when it comes to opera.

"Orfeo2021" premieres in the U.S. as a Spotlight selection at Wicked Queer: The Boston LGBTQ Film Festival. The film screens April 8. for more information, .

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.