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CD: Crotchet

Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orphée et Eurydice (1774 Paris version) [105:00]
Orphée - Juan Diego Flórez (tenor)
Eurydice - Ainhoa Garmendia (soprano)
L’Amour - Alessandra Marianelli (soprano)
Coro y Orquesta Titular del Teatro Real/Jesús López-Cobos
rec. live, Teatro Real, Madrid, May-June 2008
DECCA 478 2197 [68:09 + 36:39]

Experience Classicsonline

This is perhaps rather surprising territory in which to find Juan Diego Flórez. One glance at the cover should leave you in no doubt that he is the main attraction here. However, in many respects this opera might have been made for him.
Most of us know Orfeo best with a woman in the title role: Kathleen Ferrier, Janet Baker and Anne Sofie von Otter are among its most famous recent exponents. However, as Jeremy Hayes points out in his very useful booklet notes for this release, Gluck always conceived the part with a male protagonist in mind. His first two versions of it were composed for castrati, but when he was invited to produce a version for Paris in 1774 he knew that this would not do because in France the castrato voice was something of an object of ridicule. Consequently he rearranged it for a high tenor or, more accurately, an haute-contre. This voice type was intended to slide effortlessly between chest and head voice and would have taken most of the heroic roles in French opera of the time. If the role has more often been taken by a woman it is more testament to the fact that so few tenors today could attempt it. Enter Flórez. If any tenor today could tackle the role of Orphée it is surely him.
With such a singer in the title role it is bound to make you reassess what you know of this opera. Flórez’s renowned skills in coloratura and virtuosic singing should theoretically give him all the necessary equipment to assay this role and there are moments where he sounds fantastic. The bravura showpiece which ends Act 1, and which Gluck wrote especially for this version, sounds full and exciting in his hands and he also manages great pathos for the famous J’ai perdu mon Eurydice. If truth be told, though, to my ears he never sounded entirely at home in the role, as if the conventionally staid acting style brought out an aspect of his voice that he wasn’t entirely happy with. Even he is punished by the high tessitura at some moments. Don’t be misled, though: this remains a vocal performance of great distinction and it made me appraise the opera and this singer in a refreshing light; surely an achievement by itself.
His colleagues prove to be good companions. Marianelli is a light-voiced, skittish Amour, well contrasted with Garmendia’s dramatic Eurydice. It is mainly thanks to her that I found Act 3 the most convincing part of the performance, the exchanges between her and Orphée carrying genuine dramatic conviction. Chorus work is fine too, especially Act 2, though to my ears López-Cobos had an unsettlingly abrasive way with the orchestral writing. The grace notes and lithe rhythms of the overture sound clunky and forced and the all-important dances are decisively earth-bound throughout, nowhere carrying the convincing sense of movement they require. Perhaps that is because, while this is a live performance, the booklet photos seem to suggest that it was recorded in concert rather than at staged performances. You can also pick up quite a few extraneous creaks and page-turns. Still, that shouldn’t rule this set out of consideration, even though for me it remains a success rather than an unqualified triumph. If you really want the French version of Orphée then your first stop should be the flexible rhythms and exciting sounds of Mark Minkowski and his band on Archiv, and I suspect that Richard Croft’s voice is probably closer to what Gluck had in mind. Go to that for authenticity and this for curiosity value.
Simon Thompson

see also the review of the original concert performance 








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