Orpheus Fragments with Carduus Chamber Choir

Six movements about the myth of Orpheus.

From Carduus:
In the exquisite corpse game, created and popularized by André Bréton, several players work together to draw an imaginary creature. Each person takes a turn to draw one part of the body. They cannot see the rest of the body, but they can see where the last person left off. The result is an absurd figure, contiguous but made of vastly different parts. Carduus wrote this piece using the exquisite corpse game as a model, with the story of Orpheus serving as the “corpse” that they aimed to stitch back together. 

Holly Druckman’s pre-concert remarks (Youtube)
Post-premiere panel discussion with Carduus and Maya + Rouvelle (Youtube)

From Maya + Rouvelle:
When Pluto permits Eurydice to leave the underworld he instructs Orpheus not to turn his head until he reaches the light. Some interpret this as a rule, and Orpheus and Eurydice are then punished for breaking a rule. We disagree with this interpretation.

Instead, Pluto asks Orpheus to trust so that he may return to the light with his love. Pluto has been moved by Orpheus’ music and poetry. Orpheus pointed out to Pluto and Persephone that their own relationship, just like that of Orpheus and Eurydice, is based on love. This sways the lord of the underworld to make the most rare of exceptions.

Orpheus and Eurydice then begin their ascent to the light – seemingly unaware of the delicate balance of passion and reason required to reach the divine banquet above.

With their goal before them, Orpheus becomes doubtful. He reasons that he has not heard Eurydice’s steps. His anticipation becomes fear. He turns his head. Orpheus has lost his conviction. It is Trust that has been broken. His passions and reasoning, thrown out of balance, produce an inner turmoil that foils their ascent to the light. Eurydice disappears into the darkness, content with having known love, Orpheus ascends alone to the earthly realm, tortured by his loss.

Ascent to the light, in literature from antiquity, is often symbolized by one attaining wings to ascend to the divine banquet, where the eternal Ideas can be contemplated, and where reason or passion alone will not suffice. Indeed it is a balance between them that may produce the necessary metamorphosis for transcendence.

Mythological beings embody principles to be contemplated as sumbolom, fragments of wholes, each incomplete, yet when joined together they reveal otherwise hidden knowledge. A special kind of symbol. This is especially true of Orpheus and Eurydice. In other words the symbols are not representations of themselves. This knowledge was sustained by a rich oral tradition. That tradition is largely over. Perhaps the Arts have become a space for the contemplation of principles previously embodied in myth.

Our work for Orpheus Fragments poetically references the ideas mentioned above while suggesting that things apparent are the vision of things unseen. 

Visual Art by Maya + Rouvelle

Music by:
— Balkovets, “Happening” @ 1:10
text from Russel Hoban’s “The Medusa Frequency”
— Bouque, “Raumgewinn” @ 2:15
texts from Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” and Rilke’s “Sonnets to Orpheus”
— De Soto, “é mesmo velha historia” @ 4:48
text from “Orfeo Negro”
— Druckman, “Eurydice” @ 6:03
texts from Margaret Atwood’s “Variation on the Word Sleep” and H.D.’s “Eurydice”
— Herzog, “Little One” @ 10:29
original text by the composer
— Hiser, “Cocytus” @ 13:05
dialogue fragments from “Portrait of a Lady on Fire”

[Texts by Russell Hoban, Margaret Atwood are used with permission.]

Soprano / Catherine Psarakis, Andrea Wozniak
Alto / Wei En Chan, Jenny Herzog
Tenor / Leo Balkovetz, Sam de Soto
Baritone / Tyler J. Bouque, Jacob Hiser
Bass / Elijah Botkin, Chris Talbot
Audio Engineer / Peter Atkinson
Carduus Director / Holly Druckman

This project is made possible in part by Choral Arts New England, and our generous private donors.