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Christoph Williband GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orphée et Euridice – Paris version of 1774
Juan Diego Flórez (Orphée)
Christiane Karg (Euridice)
Fatma Said (Amor)
Hofesh Shechter Company
Coro e Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala/Michele Mariotti
rec. live, March 2018, Teatro alla Scala, Milan
Stage Directors, Hofesh Shechter and John Fulljames
Choreography, Hofesh Shechter
Set and Costume, Conor Murphy
Lighting designer, Lee Curran
Original production by the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London
Sound: LPCM Sterio DTS-HD Master Audio 5.0
Picture Format 1080p High Definition 16:9
Subtitles French, English, German, Japanese and Korean
BELVEDERE BVE08053 Blu-ray [129 min]

Originally composed in 1762 for a performance at the Burgtheater in Vienna, Christoph Williband Gluck adapted, and to some extent, re-composed his opera based on the myth of Orpheus and set to a libretto by Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, for the Paris premiere in 1774; Gluck turned to a French libretto by Pierre-Louis Moline which was based upon the original, adding new music for the ballet in order to make it more acceptable to French tastes of the time – a this included the long ‘Dance of the Furies’, originally from Gluck’s ballet Don Juan, and the famous ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’. In the Viennese production more emphasis was placed on the singers, whereas for the Paris production the addition of the ballet dances was not just for them to look pretty, rather they have an active part in driving the drama along. It was an unconventional opera for the time and the first of Gluck’s so called ‘reform operas’ in which he sought to move away from the overly complex works of opera seria to a simplified form of noble musical drama. It was also different in having just three soloists, with the majority of the drama and the music being built around the emotions of Orphée. For the Paris production one major difference was in singers; gone was the castrato of the original Viennese production, to be replaced by a haute-conte or high tenor, a voice popular in French opera and not to be mistaken for a countertenor.

My other DVD version seems to be more of a hybrid, with Magdalena Kožená in the role of Orphée under John Eliot Gardner for EMI, so in reality it could be seen as being more in line with Berlioz’s 1859 version for contralto, which became a vehicle for the likes of Pauline Viardot. Whilst I have enjoyed this version over the years since its release, I must say that having a version with a tenor in the lead is far superior, especially when he is on the form that Juan Diego Flórez is here. Flórez may not be the usual choice for a French haute-conte, since he is rather more a lyric tenor than a high tenor, but his performance will win many over, me included. He dominates the stage with his presence and is able to do justice to Orphée’s emotions of loss, love, devotion and loss again far more than Kožená ever does. His is a commanding and powerful performance, one which brings new gravitas to the role, and one that makes the sense of loss more palpable. He is more than ably backed up by Christiane Karg as Euridice, and Fatma Said as Amor, both of whom put in a first-rate performances – but there is no doubt who the star is here. The chorus and orchestra of La Scala are also in excellent form as are the Hofesh Shechter Company, who like Flórez were involved in the London premiere of this production, with the dances here playing a significant role in the storytelling.

For me the only disadvantage of this production lies in the set design and costumes, which are a bit drab to say the least, with Orphée’s suit and Euridice’s evening gown setting the scene for this modern dress version, with the stage dressing being minimal and being driven by the lighting design. However, when the singing, dancing and playing tells the story this well, you soon forget the failings of the set and costumes. The booklet notes contain an interesting essay entitled “Orfeo” vs “Orphée” that outlines the differences between the two versions, which is in English, German and French. The camera work and recorded sound are very good, making this a most desirable release.

Stuart Sillitoe

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