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Christoph Willibald GLUCK


Alceste: Anne Sofie von Otter, mezzo-sop
Admète: Paul Groves, ten
High Priest and Hercules: Dietrich Henschel, bar
Esandre: Yann Beuron, ten
A Herald and Apollo: Ludovic Tezier, bar
Corphée: Hjördis Thebauld, bar
Alceste's Alter Ego: Gladys Massenot, sop
Monteverdi Choir
English Baroque Soloists
Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Stage Director: Robert Wilson
Choreographer: Giuseppe Frigeni
Arthaus Musik DVD 100 160
[135 min].
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Two Operas on DVD

Orphée et eurydice

Orphée: Magdalena Kozena, mezzo-sop
Eurydice: Madeline Bender, sop
Amour: Patricia Petibon, sop
Monteverdi Choir
Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique
Conductor: Sir John Eliot Gardiner
Stage Director: Robert Wilson
Choreographer: Giuseppe Frigeni
Arthaus Musik DVD 100 062 [100 min]
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Both of these operas, recorded live in October 1999 at the Théàtre du Châtelet in Paris, are the result of a unique collaboration of John Eliot Gardiner and the innovative stage designer Robert Wilson. This Gluck diptych showcases two of the master's greatest works and highlights his efforts at "reforming" opera by relating the poetry and music more directly and eschewing the excesses of the earlier dramatic scheme of Pietro Metastasio.

John Eliot Gardiner brings his own brand of committed musicianship to this project. Both of these orchestras have a long history with Gardiner and both perform on period instruments. He chose the French version of these operas and had control of the casting and other musical elements. His choice of the Berlioz version of Orphée, from 1859, was deliberate and he obviously relished the energy and vividness of this scoring. For the Alceste he uses the English Baroque Soloists, who apparently use 18th Century replica instruments. The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, which is a "historically informed" orchestra of the 19th Century, is in the pit for the Orphée. In Alceste, the choir is behind the orchestra in the pit and, considering their important role in this opera, contribute much detail and strength to the effort. Played with the familiar dedication that Gardiner is noted for, the uncommon clarity, accuracy and energy of these live performances are evident throughout.

Robert Wilson, originally from Texas, has established himself as one of the most creative stage designers in the world. His sought-after productions, mostly for European opera houses, are characterized by handsome but extremely minimized staging. His own unique brand of stylized stage movements by the singers is based vaguely on the Japanese Nôh theatre tradition and the performers move about the stage looking something like ancient Egyptian bas reliefs. The costumes (Frida Parmeggiani) and lighting (Aj Weissbard), along with the choreography, by Giuseppe Frigeni, come together to make scene after scene of striking and imposing stage pictures.

The soloists are all of the first rank. In the Alceste, the dominant title role is performed admirably by the excellent Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter. One of the most versatile singers on stage today, she is a leading specialist in early opera and sings here with grace and beauty. The fine young American tenor, Paul Groves is also a specialist in Mozart and Gluck and is an exceptional Admète. Baritone Dietrich Henschel, a student of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, shows all the intelligence, technical skill and musicianship of his great master and is powerful in the dual role of the High Priest and Hercules. Yann Beuron (Evandre) and Ludovic Tezier (the Herald, Apollo) contribute to the exceptionally high standards of singing overall.

For the Orphée, Czech soprano Magdalena Kozena will be, for those unfamiliar with her work, a revelation. She has a voice of exceptional sheen and beauty with delicious lightness and agility. She achieved international recognition at the 1999 Aix-en-Provence festival in Monteverdi's, I'Incoronazione de Poppea conducted by Marc Minkowski. While not possessing the heft of von Otter's voice, her ability to navigate the coloratura runs and phrase a vocal line is awesome. The American soprano, Madeline Bender, as Euridice, is also a splendid discovery, with a smooth, crystal tone. The French soprano, Patricia Petibon (Amour) is yet another discovery of early music specialist William Christie and works often with his Les Arts Florissants. This trio of attractive young vocalists is both a pleasure to hear and to see.

If you like your Gluck with lots of rubato, expression and with conventional staging, these recordings might not be to your taste. But if you are ready to experience the delightful revelation of Gluck as he originally sounded performed by a master interpreter of the Baroque these should be of interest. Combined with Robert Wilson's provocative and moving stage pictures, these two operas are an important addition to the expanding repertory of Baroque operas on video. This Gluck diptych it is an impressive artistic triumph for both Gardiner and Wilson.

Both of these DVDs are available in the major music outlets and can be ordered direct from With the technical direction of veteran Brian Large, both operas have excellent sound and picture quality, are in 16:9 picture format, and have subtitles in English, German and French.

Frank Cadenhead

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