Ancient History

When conceiving his vibrant staging of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, director and choreographer Mark Morris envisioned the nearly 100-member chorus as witnesses from history.

In adapting the classic Orpheus myth for the operatic stage, Gluck focused on only three solo characters, but he also created a large role for the chorus, who serve as both Orfeo’s earthly companions and the denizens of the underworld. “They’re involved personally in Orfeo’s quest,” says director and choreographer Mark Morris, who created the Met’s current production. Fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi created unique costumes for the choristers, transforming each of them into a recognizable historic figure—from Cleopatra to George Washington to Maria Callas. Even Gluck himself is represented. Standing on three balconies facing the audience, they serve as a mirror to Orfeo’s story.

“Surrounded both visually and musically by the chorus,” Met Chorus Master Donald Palumbo explains, “Orfeo’s struggle becomes more clearly focused. And with the individual costumes, representing figures from all centuries and professions, the chorus illustrates the universality and timeless allure of the Orpheus myth.” Rather than have this chorus of spirits interact physically with the principal characters, “a lot of the action of the chorus is done by dancers,” Morris says. “I wanted it to be a little ambiguous, a little bit confusing who’s doing what, so that the union of chorus and dancers feels inevitable and inseparable.” In the end, the juxtaposition of evocative contemporary choreography and familiar faces from the past lends a timeless quality to Gluck’s enduring tale of love and redemption.

Take a look at just a few of the famous faces found among the opera’s chorus.

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Susan B. Anthony, sung by alto Christina Thomson Anderson


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Julius Caesar, sung by bass Brandon Mayberry


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Maria Callas, sung by alto Edith Dowd


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Amelia Earhart, sung by soprano Mary Petro Noonan

“I love this production! The idea that flawed, powerful, even sometimes-despicable humans all inhabit the underworld really brings the role of the chorus to the fore.”—Mary Petro Noonan


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Albert Einstein, sung by tenor Stephen Paynter


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Henry VIII, sung by bass Earle Patriarco


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Abraham Lincoln, sung by bass Seth Malkin


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Babe Ruth, sung by bass Justin Lee Miller


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Harriet Tubman, sung by alto Annette Spann-Lewis

“It is a distinct honor and privilege to represent such a national hero! Her bravery, selflessness, and great courage are all traits I still aspire to.”—Annette Spann-Lewis

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George Washington, sung by tenor Gregory Cross