Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice (Versione mista Vienna 1762 e Paris 1778) [103:43]
Ewa Podles (Orfeo)
Ana Rodrigo (Euridice)
Elena de la Merced (Amore)
Coro de la Comunidad de Madrid
Orquesta Sinfónica de Galicia/Peter Maag
rec. 19 June 1998, La Coruña (Spain)
ARTS 47753-8 SACD [34:29 (Act 1) + 69:14 (Acts 2 and 3)]

The enduring power of Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice is evident in the continued presence of this score on stage. These performances often result in recordings. In fact, Orfeo is represented by over 40 CDs and 8 DVDs. Of these recordings, the live ones are particularly compelling, as is the case with this 1998 concert performance.

This is sung in Italian and is a fusion of the Vienna (1762) and Paris (1778) versions of the score, thus offering not only the familiar sung portions, but also the ballets Gluck composed for French audiences. In addition to the dance numbers, notably the “Dance of the Furies”, the later Parisian drew in a tenor for the part of Orfeo, in lieu of contralto. The present recording takes its casting cue for that role from the Vienna original.

Given the number of recordings of Gluck’s Orfeo currently available, it would be difficult to recommend the Maag/Podles release as a first choice. The results are uneven, with Podles offering a dramatic interpretation which does not always fit the style of the opera. For example, the number with which the first act concludes, Orfeo’s aria “Addio, addio o miei sospiri” is indeed a poignant piece, but Podles brings to the table some of the aesthetics associated with Donizetti or Rossini; this to a work written in an earlier style. Vibrato would work better, to cite one example, if used less frequently, so that it can color the moments in which it reinforces the effects. While Podles is certainly a match for some aspects of the role, the tone quality of her vocal register is inconsistent and, at times uneven. In that previously cited number, the upper-range figures seem pushed. This also occurs to a lesser degree in the second-act aria “Che puro ciel.” Her intensity is unflagging, though, and that aspect makes her assumption compelling. The culminating number, “Che farò senza Euridice?” is convincing on its own merits. This is a number someone like Podles should deliver well and she does not disappoint in her delivery of this familiar and attractive piece.

The other principals differ in quality, and the coloring of soprano Elena de la Merced as Amor is sometimes overly open, as occurs in the second scene of the first act, “Se il dolce” when she sings in full voice. In the passages where Merced is quieter her lighter sound is sometimes masked by the lower strings. Nevertheless, Merced is good at delivering nicely phrased lines and in bringing out some of the appoggiatura figures.

As Euridice, Ana Rodrigo is adroitly in character, and works well with the chorus, as in “Questo asilo di placide”, which is nicely executed. Her delivery of “Che fiero momento” in the third act is also convincing, and Rodrigo’s voice is distinct from that of Podles. They work well in the final trio “Son d’amore, son de pene”, in which they are joined by Merced in a well balanced ensemble.

As to other aspects of the performance, Maag’s leadership is clear, but the sound does not always deliver the corresponding sonorities. The overture seems slightly overbalanced toward the treble, with violins prominent. In the first scene, though, the cellos and basses overbalance the ensemble. The brass blend well, but the percussion, especially in the Finale of the third act, seem a little out of place. Elsewhere, the sound suggests an expansive stage, with a bit of echo, as in the opening numbers with Orfeo. As usual, the ear can compensate for these kinds of differences, but some of the sonic problems are nonetheless evident in this SACD. Unfortunately the chorus, which Maag would have rehearsed well, is not evenly distinct in enunciation, and it requires a libretto to ascertain the sung text. Such is not the case with Podles, though, whose sense of drama is evident in this performance from 1998. Those who know Podles’s work in Gluck’s Armide may want to hear her more sustained assumption in this opera.

Jim Zychowicz