Ivor Bolton has built up an enviable reputation as a leading exponent
of the baroque and classicist periods’ operatic and vocal music.
Here, with the Bavarian State Opera forces, playing on modern
instruments, he gives as lively a reading as is possible, considering
the rather oratorio-like music of this beautiful score. There
are sensible tempos throughout and good playing but the recording
tends to add a raw quality to the instruments – nothing to worry
much about, though. The Bavarian State Opera Chorus – so important
in Orphée et Euridice – are splendid.
Also the ballet
plays an important part in this opera. In the Royal Stockholm
Opera’s new production (review)
director Mats Ek – himself a dancer and former leader of the
Cullberg Ballet – had almost over-choreographed the opera. Sometimes
I got the feeling that Orphée was relegated to the background.
Here it isn’t that dominant but there are scenes that are striking.
This is most so perhaps when they – the dancers – are furies,
forming a full orchestra with instruments. In the dance of the
blessed spirits they do dance with the instruments. Great fun
and in that respect the Bavarian production and the Stockholm
have the same basic attitude: the opera is a tragedy but it
has its comic points.
Scenically it is
very beautiful – but also unpredictable, mixing anachronisms.
For instance: the opening chorus is sung by a statuesque mixed
choir in tails, which enhances the oratorio feeling. Orphée
is also in tails and few women singers can wear this formal
male clothing more convincingly than Vesselina Kasarova. As
a contrast a group of gentlemen later appear in ancient Greek
togas and with laurel wreaths around their heads. When L’amour
first enters the stage she is a clown, carrying a baby doll
in her arms. Orphée in this version is a violinist, which makes
one think of Offenbach’s operetta on the same topic. I really
liked this rather disrespectful approach since it in no way
obscured the central drama.
The operatic world
is at present well endowed with excellent mezzo-sopranos and
in the top layer Vesselina Kasarova has a definite position.
She has stage presence, she is expressive, the voice is beautiful
and she has a technical command that makes even the most complicated
coloratura seem simple. Von Otter, in Stockholm as well as on
the CD set with Gardiner (review),
where she is marginally fresher, is in the same league and there
may be others to reckon with, but for a superb DVD version Kasarova
is something to wallow in.
And she isn’t the
only one. Both Rosemary Joshua and Deborah York are in ravishing
form so for anyone interested in this opera – and not being
impartial to some hefty but amusing anachronisms – this is as
good a DVD version as any I know of.