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Willibald GLUCK (1714–1787)
Orphée et Eurydice (1774) (ed. Hector Berlioz)
von Otter (mezzo) – Orphée; Barbara Hendricks
(soprano) – Eurydice; Brigitte Fournier (soprano) – Cupid;
Monteverdi Choir, Orchestre de l’Opéra National de Lyon/Sir
John Eliot Gardiner
rec. 29 January–2 February 1989, Auditorium Maurice Ravel,
Full libretto and translations at theoperaseries.com
5091612 [41:52 + 47:55]
Gluck composed his reform opera for Vienna in 1762 in Italian
and with a castrato in the title role. Later, in 1774 he reworked
the opera for Paris, adding ballet music, which was a ‘must’ in
that city, and rewrote the title role for a high tenor – haute-contre.
Almost a century later Hector Berlioz made his own edition – the
main reason being that the score had been arranged by various
hands and he wanted to bring it back to Gluck’s original
ideas. However, since Berlioz had the famous Pauline Viardot
available he transcribed the title role for contralto. This
is also the version that has been commonly used ever since
but again with various changes, most commonly translating
it back to Italian. Latterly Gluck’s first thoughts for Vienna
have been reinstated, often with a counter-tenor as Orfeo.
In other words there are many variations on the Orfeo theme
and this Berlioz version is valuable. This is also the version
that is used in the current Stockholm production, which I reviewed a
few months ago, where Anne Sofie von Otter alternates with
Anna Larsson in the title role.
Strictly speaking this isn’t the ‘real’ Berlioz version, since Gardiner
has reinstated some music that Berlioz omitted, no doubt
to heighten the tension. I hadn’t heard this set before in
full and was slightly disappointed that it felt so laid-back.
The playing of the orchestra of the Opéra de Lyon is superlative
and the Monteverdi Choir, fairly forwardly balanced, sing
with their accustomed poise and perfect intonation. However
the drama is a rather underplayed. I have long admired Gardiner’s Iphigénie
en Tauride, recorded a couple of years earlier, where
the drama is more to the fore; here there is too much oratorio
about some passages and the ballet music is neatly played
but too polite. There was much more fizz about Sir Richard
Armstrong’s reading in Stockholm.
But Gardiner has the same trump card as Armstrong, namely Anne Sofie
von Otter as Orphée. She was superb in all respects in Stockholm,
vocally as well as scenically. Almost twenty years ago she
was marginally fresher of voice – but only marginally – and
it is a pity that her voice is accorded a recessed balance
in relation to the choir. This matters little when her reading
is so superb. The big aria that ends act 1, Amour, viens
render à mon âme, is brilliant with fluent coloratura. Quel
nouveau ciel in act 2 is celestial. As for J’ai perdu
mon Eurydice in act 3, better known as Che faro in
the Italian version, it is deeply felt but classically controlled
and forward-moving without being rushed. I haven’t heard
all the various Orphées and Orfeos on record
but it is hard to imagine the part better performed.
Brigitte Fournier’s bright soprano is ideally contrasted as Cupid
and Barbara Hendricks’s Eurydice is frankly the best thing
I have heard from her in an operatic role: dramatic, expressive
and ravishingly beautiful. Her aria Fortune ennemie, quelle
barbarie in act 3 should convert anyone who regards Hendricks
as an inexpressive singer.
The recording is good but with a couple of question-marks concerning
the balance of von Otter vis-à-vis the choir. There is a
good essay and synopsis by Roger Nichols. The libretto is
available on the internet.
Those who want Gluck’s 1774 version unadulterated and with a
haute-contre in the title role will find a lot to admire in the
Naxos recording with
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt as Orphée (see review), but for the
exalted level of singing from choir and soloists and in particular
Anne Sofie von Otter’s all-embracing reading of Orphée the present
set requires to be heard by all lovers of this opera.
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