Christoph Willibald Gluck - Orphee et Eurydice (1774 tenor version in French) - No. 1. The Mourning of Eurydice (Richard Croft, Mireille Delunsch, Marion Harousseau & Claire Delgado-Boge; Marc Minkowski)





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Published on Jan 10, 2009

Though originally set to an Italian libretto, "Orfeo ed Euridice", Gluck's first step in his reform of the operatic form, owes much to the genre of French opera, particularly in its' extensive use of accompanied recitative and a general absence of vocal virtuosity. In fact, it is generally supposed that Gluck frankly took Rameau's "Castor et Pollux" as his model when he sat down to compose "Orfeo": indeed, the plot of the earlier work has much in common with that of "Orfeo". Therefore, it seems quite fitting that twelve years after the 1762 premiere of the original work, in 1774, Gluck presented his work to the Parisian public, readapting it, in the process. This reworking was given the title "Orphee et Eurydice" which is the version of this ever well-known piece that I want to present in this series of uploads.

The changes, though seemingly insignificant, are actually essential to the work's inner equilibrium. First off, the libretto is given a French translation which does shift some of the accents. Next, and more importantly, the work is greatly expanded, including the addition of a bravura, coloratura-filled aria for Orfeo at the close of Act 1, a more elaborate dance of the blessed spirits and an aria for Eurydice during the Elysium scene; the transformation of the B section of Eurydice's second aria into an intense duettino for the lovers; a penultimate terzet for all three characters and a large ballet for the end of the opera; thus, the work's original omissions are amended with the structure of the piece becoming more logical in the process. Thirdly, the orchestration is changed somewhat: for example, originally each verse of the strophic "Chiamo il mio ben cosi" is accompanied by different solo instruments - flute, horns and English horns - but in 1774 Gluck was required to change this orchestration to that of a single horn and two clarinets. Finally, and even more importantly, the transformation of the originally castrato-voiced Orfeo into the high tenor Orphee, including a more passionate reading than the original. As if that wasn't enough, the present recording, rather controversially, sets the pitch at A=403, a full tone below current pitch, which leads to a further transformation of the work which is especially evident in the baritonal lower notes that the tenor has to approach. All in all, a much different version from the original, and this is where its' interest lies.

There are only three versions of this particular version, one - under Hans Rosbaud with Leopold Simoneau in the title role; a more recent one - the Naxos release with Jean-Paul Fouchecourt; and the one that I am going to use in this case (as it is my only recording of the tenor version of "Orfeo") - Minkowski's 2004 live recording of the work with the following cast:

Richard Croft - Orphee,
Mireille Delunsch - Eurydice,
Marion Harousseau - L'Amour,
Claire Delgado-Boge - Une ombre heureuse.

As per usual, I had to cut some of the music to keep each upload (all in all, ten full postings) under eleven minutes, though I tried to keep these cuts to a minimum: the repeat of the opening chorus and (though I could upload it separately) the ballet sequence which brings the opera its' closure; all the rest of the music is retained.

Finally, here is a link to the complete libretto:


Hope you'll enjoy :).

No. 1. Sinfonia. Berlioz, when creating his own version of the score, went so far as to describe the overture to "Orfeo" as "an unbelievable trifle" ("une niaiserie incroyable") and, truth be told, it seems ironic that the firstborn of Gluck's reform begins with a piece which, though by turns lively, exciting and life-affirming, does not really go that well with the work as a whole. There are, though, more somber sections that come as a hint to the tragedy that is about to unfold but they quickly give way to the strings' unfailingly thunderous melody.

No. 2. Chorus, Dance & Ritournelle - "Ah! dans ce bois tranquille et sombre". The opening scene shows the tomb of Eurydice erected in a grassy valley - a justly famous coup-de-theatre - though this choice comes at the expense of a rather small part for Eurydice and the love of the pair underrepresented from the beginning (even Monteverdi's "Orfeo", where there is, arguably, an even larger part for Orfeo and an even smaller part for Eurydice, gives us an opportunity to see the lovers' symbolic wedding)). Orpheus stands beside it plunged in the deepest grief, while a troop of shepherds and maidens bring flowers to adorn it. The singer's despairing cry of "Eurydice" breaks passionately upon their mournful chorus, and the whole scene, though drawn in simple lines, is instinct with genuine pathos. After a pantomime of Eurydice's death, the chorus slowly leaves over the same melody which is placed strategically to close the scene and to set up Orpheus' first great lament.

And again, hope you'll enjoy :).

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