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Ernst  Krenek,  Orpheus und Eurydike: Soloists, Orquesta Sinfonica de Madrid. Coro del Teatro Real, Conductor: Pedro Halffter. Teatro Real de Madrid. 25. 4.2008 (JMI)

Concert Version


Orpheus: Eduardo Santamaría
Eurydike: Susan Anthony
Psyche: Judith Van Wanroij
Furies: Carmen Solís, Cecilia Díaz, Itxaro Mentxaka

The spring program at Teatro Real is dedicated to Orfeo myth. In addition to productions  of Monteverdi’s L'Orfeo with William Christie, we wiil have Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice with Juan Diego Flórez. But real novelty has been added to these familiar versions of the myth by adding  Krenek's  rarely performed Orpheus und Eurydike, which  has not been on stage or in concert for the last 20 years.

Ernst Krenek (Vienna 1900 - California 1991) is one of those composers who had to suffer the Nazi regime in Germany, taking up residence in America just before the beginning of World War II. His work is not widely known today, apart from  his opera Jonny Spielt auf.  Nevertheless, he composed 21  operas, from his Die Zwingburg (Berlin 1924) to his last,  Sarkodai   given in Hamburg 1970. Jonny,  his best known work  is the fifth of his operas, whereas  Orpheus und Eurydike  is the third opera, premiered in Kassel in 1926.

I want first of all to congratulate Teatro Real for giving us the opportunity to see this work  which has some  great qualities and which has been unjustly forgotten. It has an interesting musical score, offers attractive characters who have much to sing - and who really sing - as well  as musical writing for the opera chorus much  of which is of great beauty, some of it a capella and some with the full orchestra. This is a real discovery, the unanimous comment from the audience after an evening ofwell-crafted and surprising music.

Krenek's take on with the Orfeo myth Orfeo, is to focus on jealousy. Orfeo and Eurydike live happily together until the Furies, sent from Hades, take her off to the kingdom of darkness for a period of four years. Eurydike's  sister  Psyche, persuades Orfeo to go with her to Hell to rescue Eurydike, under the condition that on the return journey Orfeo will not ask his wife about anything that happened during her stay. Orfeo rescues  Eurydike, but corroded by jealousy, he persists in questioning her  until she confesses that she resisted for three years, but finally she surrended herself to Hades. Orfeo rejects and curses Eurydike, returning he  to the  dead kingdom. In the last act, the  aged Orfeo lives as a beggar until he is hanged and  goesto hell himself. Eurydike welcomes him warmly, but Orfeo rejects once more, this time  for ever.

Musical Direction was by Pedro Halffter, who gave a very convincing reading. This young conductor seems thrive on 20th century opera as he showed in Seville with Die Ferne Klang recently. He showed a complete mastery of the score, conducting with great authority and supporting  the singers, all of whom by the way, have  lots to do.  It will be very  interesting to see how Maestro Halffter conducts next month in Seville for a Zemlinsky double bill. The Orchestra played exceptionally well for him and Chorus shone for the whole of the evening.

The true protagonist in this  work is Eurydike, a role written for a kind of full lyric or even dramatic soprano and needing great expressiveness, particularly when she tells Orfeo about her life with Hades.  The American soprano Susan Anthony was an ideal interpreter, since she is always an artist who sings with great  intensity and credibility. Her weakest point is normally the higher register, but  that is not too needed much in this role.

The tenor role of Orpheus has a true cruel tessitura. Jon Villars was cast for it initially but he cancelled some time ago and  I am convinced that the tessitura played a part in his cancellation. While finding a  substitute must have been a nightmare, Eduardo Santamaría stepped in with some  dignity to save the concert. 

Eurydike's sister Psyche is also very important to the narrative  in the opera and  was performed perfectly  by the young  and attractive Dutch soprano Judith Van Wanroij,  whose voice has a very pleasant timbre and who  sang with great taste and expressiveness. A very pleasant surprise indeed.

The trio of Furies consisted of  soprano Carmen Solís, who sang well with some open high notes, a more mediocre  Cecilia Diaz and the thoroughly professional Itxaro Mentxaka.

The theater was fairly full,  the opera was performed without intermission and  nobody left before the end,  a fairly rare occurrence for some modern opera. In fact the audience applauded the artists warmly particularly Pedro Halffter and the two leading ladies.

José M Irurzun

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