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Brilliant Classics

Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice (1762)
Bernadette Manca di Nissa (mezzo): Orfeo; Paula Almerares (soprano): Eurudice; Paola Antonucci (soprano): Amor
Chorus and Orchestra of San Carlo Theatre, Naples/Gustav Kühn.
Rec. San Carlo Theatre, Naples, on May 3rd, 1998
All formats, 16:9. PAL. Dolby Digital 5.1.


A pity presentation is so lacking. There is a tiny slip of a booklet and (perhaps more importantly) no subtitles to the DVD itself. At least there is a separate track for each act.

A shame, as the actual performance and staging are by no means disgraceful, and the picture itself is of pin-point clarity. The performance took place in the Teatro di San Carlo, Naples (, a venue that, interestingly, staged Verdi’s Gustavo III this January. It is evidently a very beautiful building on the evidence of this DVD.

Perhaps the most intriguing thing that struck this reviewer on receiving the product was the conductor, Gustav Kühn. Kühn’s Wagner has been arriving via Arte Nova, yet in the mists of my memory he was marketed as a new star by EMI for a while (some Glyndebourne activities also ring a bell – a well-received Entführung? - see footnote). The present DVD may be part of a resurgence, therefore, and his interest in earlier music is confirmed by an Arte Nova disc of Pergolesi recorded in 1997 (also including Paola Antonucci; the disc includes the Stabat Mater). His rather pedestrian way with Gluck’s Overture (scratchy strings) does not bode well, however, and sets the scene for a rather routine reading of the orchestral contribution throughout the ‘evening’. A word of warning – the orchestra is very forward in the balance, so that the chorus can be so recessed that one can barely hear them (although soloists are more closely miked). And later, at ‘Che pure ciel’, the voice seems to slot into the middle of the violins and flutes, as if manipulated there spatially.

Orfeo has a tiny cast. Firstly, Orfeo him(her)self. Among other things, Bernadette Manca di Nissa has recorded Pergolesi with La Scala and Muti (Lo frate ’nnamorato on EMI), Mistress Quickly for the same forces (Verdi’s Falstaff, on Sony) and Smeton in Bonynge’s Decca Anna Bolena (Donizetti). It is quite an impressive role-call (sic). Manca di Nissa has a wide expressive range and impressive stage presence, yet sometimes her words become indistinct (lack of subtitles hardly helps). She can be imposingly assertive when required, though, and her voice contrasts well with Paula Almerares’ pure soprano. Try Orfeo’s progressively more and more impassioned pleas in Act II Scene 1 for a demonstration of her dramatic grasp. ‘Che farò senza Euridice’ does convince in the final analysis (the audience certainly liked it, and she remains completely stationary during the applause), despite singer and orchestra not being entirely synchronised, and some rather syrupy, romanticised string phrasing from Kühn and his forces.

Almerares is a well-cast Euridice. Dressed in bridal/virginal white, her voice is as pure as her costume, but also emotive (and the strings even take on a certain radiance at her entrance).

Paula Antonucci sang Susanna for Arte Nova’s Figaro (again with Kühn at the helm) and Norina in Donizetti’s Don Pasquale for the same record company. She first appears (as Amor) at the back of the stage, shrouded in clouds and wearing a pair of wings – yet the recorded balance is such that one is much more aware of the strings. Forcing one’s attention to the voice, Antonucci in fact sings well (she draws the first spontaneous applause from the audience, too). In Act III, rather primly dressed in pink, she is perhaps less impressive as her voice seems to have taken on a roughness that was absent earlier.

Actual movement on stage is nicely managed, with lots of muscly skin on view for the Furies in Hades, if you like that sort of thing. The chorus in Act II has glowing blue heads, rather intriguingly. The production as a whole, though, is sparse, often dark but traditional (Orfeo even has a lute, although she does rather walk around looking as if she’s not quite sure how it got there).

Recommended with caution, then. John Eliot Gardiner’s Arthaus DVD (100 062) has the massive advantage of including Magdalena Kožena in the cast, but be aware that he opts for the Berlioz version of the score.

Colin Clarke


Performances at Glyndebourne were:

1980, 83 Die Entführung aus dem Serail
1981, 84 Le nozze di Figaro
1981 Ariadne auf Naxos
1983 Intermezzo
1984 Cosi fan tutte


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