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Orfeo ed Euridice with Janet Baker

The great mezzo-soprano, Dame Janet Baker, retired in 1982, and as her final performance she sang the role of Orfeo in Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera House. This was broadcast live on television at the time, but what I didn't know until quite recently was that it was made available, first as a VHS tape and then more recently as a DVD film.

I didn't actually see the broadcast on television, but I read someone talking about the performance quite recently on a web forum and went hunting to see what was available on DVD. Amazon came up with a Region 1 DVD but for UK listeners like myself it was more difficult and eventually I tracked down and purchased a Region 2 version from www.prestoclassical.co.uk, a web site from whom I have ordered several times in recent months with good reliability.

The purchased proved to be very worth while. Sir Peter Hall at this time was producing top quality performances at the Glyndebourne opera house, which had not yet been refurbished. Dame Janet Baker is a reasonably convincing Orfeo (though of course the role would originally have been sung by a castrato it is nowadays usually sung by a Mezzo-soprano or an Alto), and her singing of the aria Che farò senza Euridice? is one of the most touching and beautiful moments in the opera, exquisitely sung here - you won't hear it much better done anywhere, and overall her singing of the role is quite wonderful.

The ballets in Act Two where Orfeo walks through the scenes of hell are particularly well produced, with some wonderful acrobatics and stylistic staging.

The staging is kept simple throughout, even in the Elysian Fields, though there are times at this point when the action rather flags. I found also that the ballet at the end also got rather tedious, though it should be remembered that the original opera of the 1760s would not have had so much ballet, it was not until it was performed in the 1770s at the Paris opera that the ballet was added and it is this version that was published and that we usually see today (Donald J Grout A Short History of Opera, © 1947, pub. Columbia University Press 1965).

The film is not of the best quality and I found on my Sony Bravia TV that it was necessary to set it to Vivid Color in order to get the DVD to display properly although it works fine on my computer, because on the television it played very dark. However, it has most probably been remastered from a VHS tape as that is how it has been sold previously. It should be remembered also that the quality has been set to NTSC and not PAL. However, the camerawork is sensitively done and the whole opera is carefully staged to quite lovely effect. It is interesting also to see the Glyndebourne opera house prior to its refurbishment, looking quite different from the way it does now!

It is a version of Christoph Gluck's opera that is well worth adding to your collection. Elisabeth Spieser is a superb Euridice to Dame Janet Baker's Orfeo, and although Elizabeth Gale's singing as Amore is not quite of such quality she still produces some beautiful work.

If you would like to buy the Region 1 version of this DVD, Gluck - Orfeo ed Euridice / Baker, Speiser, Gale, Leppard, Glyndebourne Opera can be purchased from amazon.com using the link.

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