Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714–1787) Orfeo ed Euridice
Franco Fagliolis (counter-tenor) – Orfeo; Malin Hartelius (soprano)
– Euridice; Emmanuelle de Negri (soprano) – Amore
Accentus, Insula Orchestra/Laurence Equilbey
CD 1: Orpheo: Highlights of the versions for Vienna (1762) and Paris (1774)
CDs 2-3: Orfeo ed Euridice. Complete recording of the original version (Vienna 1762)
rec. live, 5, 7 April 2015, Théâtre de Poissy, France
Libretto with translations into French, German and English enclosed ARCHIV PRODUKTION 479 5315 [3 CDs: 66:38 + 38:02 + 47:18]
There is no shortage of recordings of Gluck’s ‘reform opera’, which exists in several versions. The earliest I have been able to find is a 1935 Pathé recording of the Berlioz version, sung in French with Alice Raveau and Germaine Feraldy in the leading roles. It was abridged and so was the 1947 Decca (Ricordi/Italian) with Kathleen Ferrier. We need to go to the 1950s and the LP era to find more complete versions. The main ones are the Vienna 1762 and the Paris 1774, both the work of Gluck himself. After the death of Gluck the opera was often played but changes of various sorts were made. Berlioz, who was a great admirer of Gluck, went back to the sources and in 1859 presented his restoration of the 1774 version, but now for a contralto instead of a high tenor, a breed that was then on the decline. However, there have been various ‘agglomerations´ after that where bits and pieces from different versions have been mixed and matched. Now Archiv have issued a set giving us an opportunity to compare certain aspects of the Vienna and Paris versions. The latter is represented on a highlights disc and the following two discs presents the Vienna version. There are still compromises insofar as two numbers from the Paris version, which, naturally enough, was in French, have been adapted by Thibault Perrine and are sung in Italian. I can understand the pedagogic ambitions but still think that, considering the short playing time on CDs 2 and 3, those extra numbers from the Paris version could just as well have been included separately after act III. There is more than 30 minutes playing time available. Be that as it may, what counts is the quality of the singing and playing of the Vienna version – and it’s great.
I hadn’t come across the Insula orchestra and its conductor Laurence Equilbey before and they are excellent. Ms Equilbey chooses sensible tempos throughout and the precision of the playing is stunning. We need only mention the ominous dance of the furies at the beginning of act II and the short dance in the Elysian fields in scene 2 of the same act (CD 3 tr. 1). The more extended version in the Paris version can be heard in all its heavenly beauty on CD 1 tr. 7. The chorus, so important in this opera, is also alert and sing with homogenous perfection.
The soloists are eminent. French soprano Emmanuelle de Negri has specialised in baroque repertoire, not least in close cooperation with William Christie. She has also appeared in Mozart, Rossini and even Debussy: Yniold in Pelléas et Mélisande. Here she is a vivid Amore. Malin Hartelius, Swedish-born but primarily based in Zurich, is a lovely Euridice, and she has dramatic bite too, in the duet with Orfeo (CD 3 tr. 8). She expressively voices Euridice’s sorrow over Orfeo’s coldness when he leads her back from the dark cave (CD 3 tr. 9) in the recitative as well as in her aria Che fiero momento! (CD 3 tr. 10).
The heaviest burden in this opera is however on the shoulders of Orfeo,
and Franco Fagliolis, who has rapidly conquered the central counter-tenor
roles, is tremendously good. The sheer beauty of his voice is stunning
and his nuanced expressivity impresses. His technical accomplishment,
well-known from other recordings and live appearances, is not so much
in evidence in this rather terse music. Even so, his trill impresses
and there are some elegant grace notes that reveal his mastery. Che
faro (CD 3 tr. 12) is really beautifully sung, but how authentic
are the decorations? They are tasteful and not too self-assertive but
would Gluck have accepted them? For someone who, like me, learnt this
aria through Kathleen Ferrier’s recording, straight – and
sung in English – this seems unauthentic. Let me hasten to add
that this is not a criticism in itself; only a statement. Without having
heard more than a limited number of the available recordings, I believe
that this recording, given its beauty of singing and playing, holds
its own against the keen competition. As for the music itself, once
again one marvels at the nobility, beauty and power of this score.