Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Thank you very much for contributing to our June Membership Drive! If you didn't have a chance to donate, please do so at any time. We look forward to your support!

Orpheus Reborn With Dancers, Drums And Electric Guitar

He's the ultimate singer-songwriter: His poetry knows no equal and, as a musician, his powers are magical. But he also has big problems.

The tragic story of Orpheus has inspired countless works of art over the millennia — plus one. The latest retelling comes from director and choreographer Mark DeChiazza.

Orpheus Unsung began as a wordless opera, composed by guitarist Steven Mackey with percussionist Jason Treuting (from Sō Percussion). The hour-long piece is scored for just two instruments – electric guitar and drums – plus a trio of dancers.

In this scene, "Stalactites," Mackey portrays Orpheus with a distinctly percussive guitar. Spasms of notes twinkle and ping like bells; others, like icy shards, fly in all directions. Treuting's hair-trigger reactions speak in an interlocking language of drums, gongs and cymbals.

Orpheus' troubles begin at his very own wedding, when his bride Eurydice is fatally bitten by a snake. Deep in the underworld, where DeChiazza's video takes place, Orpheus' beautiful music allows him to rescue Eurydice. But he breaks his promise not to look back at her, and in an instant she vanishes forever.

Later, poor Orpheus meets his own gruesome demise. Torn to pieces by a pack of frenzied women, his severed head and trusty lyre float downstream toward the Mediterranean, continuing to sing and play.

DeChiazza's piece toys with themes of loss, boundaries, regeneration and art's potential to cheat death. Orpheus may have died, but in works like this — as in the thousands which preceded it and those to follow — he is reborn again and again.

Orpheus Unsung will be issued Oct. 6 on New Amsterdam.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.