GLUCK Orfeo ed Euridice
This is the first version of the opera, composed for Vienna in 1762, with none of the accretions from the Paris rewrite of 1774. So there’s no Air de Furies, no aria for Eurydice in Act 2, no Act 3 trio. In fact the original is itself pared down: the four-part Ballo at the end is omitted, as are the two dances in the Elysian Fields.
The recording comes from the Baroque theatre in the castle at Český Krumlov, formerly Krumau, the seat of the Habsburg Schwarzenberg family. Although it’s billed as a film, the performance is made up of takes done live; from time to time the conductor and orchestra are shown, dressed in 18th-century gear. The candlelit scenery is delightful. The bad news is that instead of presenting the opera straight, Ondřej Havelka has chosen to put it, so to speak, in inverted commas: as the booklet-note has it, Orpheus ‘steps out of his Baroque environment, exposes it for the theatrical world it is and disappears into the unknown’. So we first see him on his bed, buttoning his shirt, donning a scarf and tuning his lyre before being startled by the beginning of the Overture. At the end, instead of rejoicing, he watches glumly from the auditorium before walking slowly down a corridor and disappearing from view in silence.
Within the frame, though, it’s well done. If the writhing of the Furies lacks conviction, the small chorus sings with impressive power and tenderness. Elysium looks appealing, painted statues and urns in a garden of cypresses and orange trees. Cupid descends on a cloud, complete with bow and a quiverful of arrows. With her long hair Regula Mühlemann looks much too feminine, but she portrays the character with great charm. Eva Liebau is excellent as Eurydice, uncomprehending and then furious at Orpheus’s refusal to look at her on their journey back from the underworld. ‘Che fiero momento’ almost has the force of Electra’s final outburst in Idomeneo.
Bejun Mehta mourns Eurydice at the start with tenderness, and there’s a nice sense of wonder at the Elysian Fields. I wonder if Gluck would have cared for his embellishing the clean lines of ‘Che farò’. The period orchestra under Václav Luks is fine. There is much to enjoy here.