Texte paru dans: / Appeared in:
Fanfare Magazine: 43:5 (05-06/2020) 
Pour s'abonner / Subscription information
Les abonnés à Fanfare Magazine ont accès aux archives du magazine sur internet.
Subscribers to Fanfare Magazine have access to the archives of the magazine on the net.


Code-barres / Barcode : 0827949080562

Reviewer: Bertil van Boer

Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice was a sensation when it was premiered on October 5, 1762, but this work was a long time in its genesis. Since the Florentine Camerata of the late Renaissance, intellectuals had pondered the revival of Greek theater, and among the first operas were two based upon the Orpheus myth: Jacopo Peri’s Euridice and Claudio Monteverdi’s Orfeo, the latter often considered to be the first “real” opera. Since this beginning, the deliberations of how to best approach the original Greek stage and how to modernize it went full steam, even as the opera itself continued to evolve. By 1755 Francesco Algarotti had written a treatise on the opera of the day and how to “reform” it, while a contemporary, archeologist Johann Winckelmann, revisited the notion of Greek theater, noting that such reform could be undertaken by reviving and imitating the actual ancient works. All of this struck a resonant chord with the director of the Viennese Burgtheater, Count Giacomo Durazzo, who conspired with composer Gluck and librettist Ranieri di Calzabigi to turn these suggestions into reality. Gluck himself was not unknown either as a composer of operas in various styles, both seria and opéra comique, or as an innovator. The previous year he had teamed up with choreographer Gasparo Angiolini to produce a powerful pantomime entitled Don Juan, which was already becoming well known outside the Austrian capital for its drama. The idea that he should be involved with this new project probably appealed to him from a musico-dramatic standpoint, and his connections insured that it was not just an intellectual experiment.

The myth of Orpheus is so well-known that it doesn’t need much explanation here. As the opera opens, he has lost his bride Euridice and Amore appears to instruct him to seek her down in Hades. The second act, probably the most dramatic of the work, had Orpheus passing through the gates of Hades, placating Cerberus and the Furies, and eventually entering the realm of Elysium. Here the “spirits” reunite him with Euridice, and in the third act they venture to the outer world. As she returns to living consciousness, she wonders whether the fact that Orpheus does not answer or look at her is another cruel twist of fate. We know the end; Orpheus cannot resist and Euridice is lost. In this work, Amore functions at the end as a deus ex machina, somehow returning Euridice (for a third time) to life and proclaiming that love conquers all. Despite the hype, one can immediately see that this “reform” has little to do with actual Greek forerunners and is conceived more along the lines of opera seria, right up to and including the happy ending. There is, of course, more chorus involved, and extraneous characters (such as Hades/Pluto) are excluded, and the action is rather tame. Finally, the voices are conventional, as Orpheus is written for a castrato. The orchestration can be a bit old-fashioned at times, with Gluck using instruments such as the chalumeau and cornett. Still, the integration of chorus, solo, and instrumental numbers reflects the sort of unity proposed by Algarotti, especially. Finally, the numbers are relatively short, eschewing the drawn out (and superfluous) da capo arias.

Still, there is content that hints that the composer was not entirely sure about how this might be received. This is apparent in the lively C-Major Overture, which, although in a single movement, seems a bit too happy for an act that opens on a funeral urn. The numbers in the first act seem to tumble one after the other, each under three minutes long (and these happen to be the choruses). It is the second act that has all of the musical action. One cannot fault the intensive dialogue between Orpheus and the various Furies, with his harp playing an arpeggiated soporific tune that eventually placates them. Here, the conductor David Bates has chosen to include the iconic Dance of the Blessed Spirits, even though it was composed only for the French version a decade later. The languid flute line seems indelibly linked to the opera, so this is not particularly disturbing, as it is the only outlier in the recording. The third act has a rather lively and actually quite happy duet (“Viene appaga il tuo consorte”) that gives a different impression of the conundrum in the text between Euridice and Orpheus. Thereafter come two of the most iconic arias, Euridice’s “Che fiero momento” and his “Che faro senza Euridice.” Her first one is quite dramatic, almost Sturm und Drang, while his is rather sentimental, but the tune is an earworm. The finale is a rather lively march, and as it is extended there is a sort of nod towards the ensemble finale of the opera buffa, even if it includes some dance sections. In short, the audience, whatever its interest, could find something herein that ot liked. Since this all appeared to work, this inspired Gluck to do a full-fire opera (Armide) that really got the reform ball rolling.

There are, of course, a fair number of recordings out there of this opera in all of its versions. What makes this one stand out is the pace, not too slow or lugubrious or too fast even in the accompagnatos, but rather smooth and easy. Soprano Sophie Bevan and countertenor Iestyn Davies match each other in purity of tone and sensitive interpretation. Soprano Rebecca Bottone has rather less to do, but she has a clear and distinctive voice that fits the limited role well. The orchestral performance of La Nuova Musica is finely balanced, and each of the instrumental textures emerges with no muddiness or intonation issues. The tempos are, under David Bates’s capable direction, all perfect for this opera. Given what I have heard of the other recordings in my collection, this one now becomes my preferred one.

Fermer la fenêtre/Close window

Sélectionnez votre pays et votre devise en accédant au site de
Presto Classical
(Bouton en haut à droite)

Pour acheter l'album
ou le télécharger

To purchase the CD
or to download it

Choose your country and curency
when reaching
Presto Classical
(Upper right corner of the page)


Cliquez l'un ou l'autre bouton pour découvrir bien d'autres critiques de CD
 Click either button for many other reviews