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Christoph Willibald GLUCK (1714-1787)
Orphée et Eurydice, opera in four acts (1762 rev. 1774, the Berlioz version, 1859)
Marianne Crebassa (mezzo-soprano) – Orphée
Hélène Guilmette (soprano) – Eurydice
Lea Desandre (mezzo-soprano) – Amour
Chorus and Orchestra of Ensemble Pygmalion / Raphaël Pichon
Aurélien Bory (stage direction and sets)
rec. live, 16 and 18 October 2018, Opéra Comique, Paris
Sung in French with subtitles in English, German, French, Korean, Japanese, Chinese
Filmed in High Definition; Picture: 1080i/16:9 Anamorphic Widescreen; Sound: LPCM Stereo / DTS-MA 5.1; Region code: A,B,C
NAXOS Blu-ray NBD0100V [99 mins]

This interesting new disc is the third release of Gluck’s masterpiece on video in two years. In musical terms, it actually manages to present something new about this much performed work. This is certainly not the first recording of Hector Berlioz’s 1859 revision of Orphée, in which he combined the 1762 Viennese original for a castrato with the 1774 Paris revision in French for a tenor. His version has been present regularly in the repertory. There is a beautiful CD reference recording on EMI under John Elliott Gardiner with Ann Sophie von Otter as Orphée. What sets this disc apart is the fact that the music director chose to present it with a baroque instrument ensemble playing in the pit. This takes the Berlioz arranged sound world of the piece much further back to the opera’s origins, and certainly makes much of Orphée sound freshly minted and alive.

In this production we have a rising celebrity: French mezzo Marianne Crebassa. Her slender, attractive sound is quite suited to most of the role. The wonderful coloratura aria that concludes Act 1 finds her at her absolute best. She sings with elegance and ideal tonal steadiness, and her acting of this scene is truly superb. Every emotion that runs through Orphée’s mind registers intently on her face. This is a performance to treasure. Only in the great Act 3 aria J’ai perdu mon Euridice did I feel that the role calls for a voice a shade larger than Ms Crebassa’s. She seemed to be pushing her voice for more volume in this most important aria.

In the smaller but important role of Euridice, we have the charming soprano Hélène Guilmette. She acts her role beautifully but her tone is somewhat cloudy and unfocussed throughout her scenes. Lea Desandre, who sings Amour, has a perfectly placed mezzo voice for this role often sung by a light soprano. She is hampered, however, by the director’s concept which makes her appear rather like a somnolent circus performer in all of her scenes.

Conductor Raphaël Pichon leads the excellent Ensemble Pygmalion in a breathtakingly beautiful reading of the score. Their entrancing sound is one of the things that gave me the greatest pleasure in this production. Some liberties have been taken with the score. Gluck’s marvellous overture has been eliminated entirely in favor of a larghetto taken from the ballet Don Juan (1761). The celebratory concluding ballet has also been eliminated because Euridice does not get restored to life again in the director’s concept.

Stage director Aurélien Bory conceives a set design that incorporates Corot’s famous 1862 painting of Oprheus walking Euridice back from the dead. He surmises that it was partly inspired by the Berlioz revival that made a strong impression on the Parisian audiences in 1859. Bory combines this with a very disorienting stage mirror device which manages to convey some interesting imagery superimposed on the story. Costuming is vaguely art-deco in style, blended with Greek elements. The concept of the God Amor, while striking, is rather confusing and seems to me to be at odds with the lively music Amour has been given to propel the action forward. On the plus side, the staging of the death of Euridice is truly affecting in its beauty and simplicity. I found myself wondering about the necessity of having Orphée drape himself across the reclining bodies of the inhabitants of Hades, who writhe underneath him. Sometimes less is really more…

The sound and picture on this disc are both of the highest standards. All in all, this is a fascinating release with a stunning central performance by Marianne Crebassa.

Mike Parr

Previous review (DVD): Stephen Barber

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