Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote 49 operas but arguably only one that has entered the repertory of some opera companies: Orfeo ed Euridice.
In 1762 Gluck offered to the Viennese his first version of the classic tale of the poet who goes to hell and back in search of his lost beloved. Twelve years later in Paris, the German-Bohemian composer had the original Italian libretto translated into French. Now titled Orfée et Euridice, Gluck’s new version of his former Italian-language opera still spoke French with an Italian musical accent.
Gluck’s opera partakes of much that is French too, starting with its extended ballet sequences and its elimination of anything remotely resembling operatic antics. Arias are brief and the music is mostly through-composed, with fewer repeats and with whatever embellishments are there explicitly written out to be sung as composed. But the impassionedly sweeping melodies, none more beautiful and dramatically compelling than Orfée’s lament over the second death of his Euridice are Italian in form and spirit.
The plot is simple. Orfée has lost his Euridice, who died after being bitten by a serpent. Heartbroken he descends to the underworld and pleads to its gods to let him bring her back to life. His wish is granted on the condition that they must journey out of Hades without once looking into each other’s eyes. In their journey out of Hades, Orfée is unable to continue without looking at his beloved. Once more she is struck dead. At this point the final outcome of the story depends on which version of Gluck’s opera is being discussed. The French one is more somber than the Italian, but I leave the spoiler out for the reader to discover, if interested.
In the live video recording of Orfée et Euridice coproduced by Concorde and the Teatro alla scala, Juan Diego Florez sings the title role in the version originally sung by the haute-contre Legroz. The Peruvian tenor handles the ungodly high tessitura with ease, emitting at all times a sound that has grown pleasantly darker than that of his former tenore di grazia days. The agility, the impeccable legato, the multiplicity of colors are still there, and so are the artistry and musicality that have defined the career of this artist.
The soprano who undertakes the role of Euridice is consigned by both the composer and the librettist to secondary status, in spite of which Christiane Karg holds her own dramatically and vocally in her extended encounter with Florez in act II.
Oddly, the part of L’Amore (read Cupid) allows a good singer to share the honors with those singing the title roles, and here soprano Fatma Said acts with in-your-face humor and sings gloriously the part of the interfering though well meaning god of love.
The production is interesting: a joint effort by stage director John Fulljames and choreographer Hofesh Schecter, whose dance company excels in the extended dance sequences inventively created by him. Conor Murphy designed both set and costumes and Michele Mariotti led with stylish authority the orchestra of the Teatro Alla Scala and its superb chorus.
Rafael de Acha http://www.RafaelMusicNotes.co