Gluck’s opera “Orpheus and Eurydice” (“Orfeo ed Euridice” in Italian) is a well-known and popular piece which is performed quite often. The opera has undergone three editions: it was composed in 1762, and originally the lead part was written for a castrato. 12 years later, for a Paris premiere in 1774, Gluck had this score revised and re-wrote the role of Orpheus for a high tenor. Also, the libretto was translated into French. French composer Hector Berlioz went back to this opera in 1859 and worked on the score, re-writing the part for mezzo-soprano, and this is how this opera is most often being staged now. This performance, however, uses the original 1762 version, having a contralto sing the castrato part.
The opera’s plot is based on the Greek myth of Orpheus. Orpheus, the most famous poet and musician of ancient times, loses his wife Eurydice, who had died of a snake’s bite. He’s so overcome by grief that he swears he would’ve come and taken Eurydice from Hades, the realm of the dead, if this were possible. The gods answer to his desperate plea by sending to him Amour, the god of love, who then tells Orpheus he has a chance to get his wife back if he promises he would never look back at her on their way from Hades. Needless to say Orpheus agrees and descends to Hades. And needless to say his plan fails, as he does look back to Eurydice and loses her again. But the opera, contrary to the myth, has a happy ending, as the audience of the XVIII century wouldn’t have appreciated a tragic story. Orpheus, now even more desperate than before, wants to kill himself, and at that moment the gods return Eurydice to him in reward for his great love.
Orpheus – Bernadette Manca di Nissa (contralto)
Eurydice – Paula Almerares (soprano)
Amour – Paola Antonucci (soprano)
Chorus and Orchestra of San Carlo Theatre / Gustav Kühn
Recorded at San Carlo Theatre, Naples, on May 3rd, 1998.
I must say it’s essential to know at least the summary of the plot before watching this DVD, as it doesn’t provide us with subtitles, which I found extremely disappointing. It was not the major disappointment, however.
The staging here is traditional, I’d say even Baroque. This is how the opera might have been staged in the composer’s time, and it offers us a chance to peek into the XVIII theatre. Orpheus looks like a Roman emperor in his/her long purple garment and rich red and gold cape. Eurydice, despite her limited presence on the stage, changes three crinoline dresses during the performance. There are three ballet scenes present and a very realistically disturbing Hades with furies and tortured sinners. All other scenes remain static and the characters (or rather character, as 80% of the time we see Orpheus) hardly do anything but stand/walk around singing what they have to sing.
As Orpheus, we have Italian contralto Bernadette Manca di Nissa sing the part. Sra di Nissa has a true contralto voice, beautiful, rich, with wide range and good technics. Though I think I caught some disbalanced sound in Orpheus’ famous aria “Che farò senza Euridice”. Still, the audience loved it. Maybe it was sung this way for dramatic effect but considering the level of drama in this one, I doubt it. Call me a weirdo but I really prefer when singers act and not just sing their notes correctly. And Sra di Nissa’s acting is of the “raised hands mean anguish, clenched fists portray anger, hands, pressed to your chest, symbolize despair” kind. There are… let me count… four, maybe five gestures in her dramatic arsenal. And the lyre Orpheus carries around… well, it’s obvious that this greatest musician of his time has no clue of what to do with this gilded thing that’s somehow gotten into his hands. She doesn’t even mimic playing it during the harp solos in the Furies scene, except once. Good heavens, it’s my first time in the opera when I was more interested in the singer’s costume than in her stage presence. The absence of high Fs in the end of “Che farò” was disappointing, too.
Eurydice, sung by the pretty Argentine soprano Paula Almerares, has a light and pure voice that contrasts well with Manca di Nissa’s deep contralto. She is slightly more expressive than her stage husband, though crinolines and static staging surely don’t help. But I was figuratively killed on the spot when I saw the dead Eurydice being carried with her eyes open. Was she watching the ballet members in fear that they might suddenly drop her? As a dead body, she lay with her eyes properly closed but visibly twitched once. Yeah, the close-ups give away the flaws that are not seen from the auditorium. But surely she must have been aware of the cameras? Ah well, the living Eurydice’s singing was more than decent and she even tried to act.
Italian soprano Paola Antonucci sang Amour, dressed in a pink camisole and in Act I appearing shrouded by clouds in the back of the stage. The microphones must have been placed somewhere close to the orchestra pit, as sound clearly prefers orchestra over the voices. And when Amour and the chorus sing from the back of the stage, they are barely audible at all. That’s a pity, for Sra Antonucci sings well, and I wish I heard more of her.
For the conductor, Maestro Gustav Kühn, I can’t offer any special praise, as his reading of Gluck’s music was, to my ear, rather mundane and uninspired. And this damn ill-balanced sound with orchestra overpowering the voices, if the singer’s not standing on the proscenium…
In short, I can’t recommend this DVD, if only you are interested in watching how a beautiful period staging can be killed by lack of dramatic singers and tedious conducting. And in this case, I suggest you borrow it. For purchasing, I recommend the Munich 2000 performance on DVD starring “Kasarova The Orpheus Incarnate” in title role (though it uses the Berlioz version of the score). As for CDs, there are a bunch of them. Pick the classic Karajan recording with Giulietta Simionato as Orpheus, or a very good Rene Jacobs recording with Bernarda Fink, or the gorgeous Baltsa/Gruberova version conducted by Riccardo Muti.
Ещё добавлю, что с Манка ди Ниссой я больше ни одной оперы не посмотрю. "Танкреда" и Орфея мне хватило. Удивительная способность выхолащивать всякую живость из музыки и пения и превращать их в чёрт знает что, набор вокализов в сопровождении оркестра.
А, ну да, костюмы замечательные. aksana как-то спрашивала меня, нет ли у меня опер с хорошими костюмами - вот, пожалуйста. Как раз тот случай. Роскошно-пафосный костюм Орфея интересовал меня куда больше, чем сам Орфей. Что у нас там? Свободное верхнее платье из чего-то пурпурного с золотой отделкой. Ткань - что-то типа шёлковой тафты, кажется. Знаю такую, из неё чаще всего вечерние платья шьют, ибо она переливается и спадает красивыми складками. Суженные к запястью рукава, отделанные тесьмой и вышивкой. Выше талии - расшитый золотом пояс, спереди широкий, на спине сужается. Отделка рукавов, пояса и переда платья выполнена в одном стиле - узор из золотых лавровых листьев по тёмно-пурпурному фону. Роскошный объёмный плащ из алого шёлка с золотым узором по краю. Плащ, кажется, квадратный, метра 3 с половиной, сложен по диагонали, прикреплён к плечам двумя золотыми застёжками. Плюс непонятно каким образом края плаща заходят за высокий пояс. Левый край нижней половины плаща подобран и тоже пристёгнут к плечу, создавая нечто вроде широкого рукава. Правый край висит свободно. Передвигаться во всём этом довольно проблематично: выходя на поклон, Орфей плащ подбирает и набрасывает на руку. Но красиво, блин. Люблю такой стиль.