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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orfeo ed Euridice (Premiere recording of the version performed at Naples, 1774)
Orfeo - Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor)
Euridice - Amanda Forsythe (soprano)
Amore - Emöke Baráth (soprano)
Coro della Radiotelevisione svizzera
I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
rec. 19-29 September 2016 and 19-21 July 2017, Auditorio Stelio Molo RSI, Lugano Besso, Switzerland. DDD.
Text and translations included
ERATO 9029570794 [77:38] When limited de luxe edition is exhausted catalogue number reverts to 9029566023.

Quite some time ago Philippe Jaroussky had a walk-on part as Speranza in a recording of Monteverdi’s Orfeo directed by Jean-Claude Malgoire (Dynamic CDS477, download only, or 33477, DVD). Last year he gave us an album of arias from operas on the Orpheus theme by Sartori, Monteverdi and Rossi (La Storia di Orfeo, Erato 9029585190).

Now, with the same forces plus Amanda Forsythe, he brings us the Gluck opera, and in a form hitherto unrecorded. This is not the Vienna original (1762), the expanded Paris version (1774), or the conflated version to which we are accustomed. For a revival in Parma in 1769 and again in Naples in 1774 the title role was rewritten for a male soprano and in Naples extra numbers were inserted, by JC Bach and others, but the original for three soloists was retained.

Who better to perform this 1774 Orfeo than Philippe Jaroussky with his very high counter-tenor voice? Shakespeare tells us that:

    Orpheus with his lute made trees,
    And the mountain tops that freeze,
    Bow themselves, when he did sing:

Here it’s not the trees and mountain tops that yield to his voice but the Furies who bar his way to the underworld. The Swiss Radio Chorus and Diego Fassolis’ I Barocchisti present these extremely dramatically but Jaroussky’s Orfeo calms them most convincingly.

If you haven’t yet encountered Jaroussky’s voice, I recommend sampling first. Try, if you can, track 12 on which he placates the Furies. It’s something of an acquired taste, but I became convinced long ago; his singing and that of Danielle de Niese convinced me that Monteverdi’s Poppea, an opera which I had tended to underrate, was the equal of his Orfeo and Ulisse DL News 2012/21. The Naples audience expected some more florid touches in the title role, and Jaroussky supplies these admirably.

Amanda Forsythe as Euridice is in every way his equal. Indeed, in Senza un addio and her subsequent duet with Orfeo, Piů frenarmi non posso, she almost out-sings him, making the most of the additional music that Gluck gave Euridice in 1774. But then Jaroussky gives us a most compelling Che farň senza Euridice? At the risk of an unintended pun, this is singing to die for.

Emöke Baráth as Amore has much less to do than on last year’s multi-Orfeo album, but she makes the most of what she has with one of the best accounts of Gli sguardi trattieni that you are likely to hear.

I’ve already referred to the power of the chorus in barring Orfeo’s way. They are equally effective, in very different mood, in the concluding Trionfi Amore! The orchestral support under Diego Fasolis’ direction is everywhere first-rate. To date I have been able only to hear this recording in streamed mp3 but I have no doubt that the CD sounds very fine.

The booklet is a lavish affair with many colour illustrations. I could have done with fewer of these for a larger font in the libretto.

This won’t – can’t – be my only recording of Gluck’s Orfeo. Sometimes I shall still turn to the Vienna original, economically presented by Arnold Östman and the Drottningholm Chorus and Orchestra on a single CD (Naxos 8.660064) or, slightly more expensively on a budget twofer, René Jacobs’ recording on Harmonia Mundi, the 1762 original plus shortened ballet music. The beautiful playing of the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, so light on their feet, is one of the glories of this account – review.

At other times I shall turn to one of the conflated versions with the Paris ballet music, such as Peter Maag’s recording for Arts – review – or, for the sake of Janet Baker, the Leppard recording (Warner 2564614972, budget price, highlights only). I wish that I could like Kathleen Ferrier’s Orfeo as much as I ought. I can be sure, however, that I shall frequently return to the new Erato recording of the 1774 version in which Philippe Jaroussky shines and is very well supported all round.

Brian Wilson


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