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Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Gluck

Gluck's opera Orfeo ed Euridice was first performed in Vienna in 1762, to an Italian libretto. It proved extremely popular and eventually Gluck (1714 - 1787) added to the ballets already featured in it and prepared it for performance in Paris in 1774, to be sung in French under the title of Orphée et Eurydice. Parisian audiences preferred a lot of ballet in their opera and so the Dance of the Furies was added. The French opera is also written for a different singing voice in the part of Orfeo, that of a very high tenor. There are therefore two versions of this opera by Gluck himself: the Vienna 1762 version and the Paris 1774 version, which includes the Dance of the Furies.

Finally, in the late 1850s the composer Hector Berlioz combined the Italian and French scores to create the version of the opera often heard today, with the part of Orfeo sung by a mezzo-soprano.

Gluck's librettist for the Italian version of the opera was Ranieri de' Casalbigi (1714 - 1795), who was reacting strongly against the Metastasian operas of the Baroque period, with their elaborate coloratura arias and recitativos, and his French librettist was Pierre-Louis Moline (1740-1820).

Orfeo ed Euridice therefore has no coloratura and the opera does not contain huge amounts of drama, concentrating instead on emotional intensity. The plot is fairly simple, based on the old story of Orfeo so overcome with grief on the death of his beloved that Amore, the god of Love gives him permission to go into the underworld to find her on one condition - that he does not look at her until he brings her out into the world again. Of course this fails, but in this version unlike the traditional story, Amore relents and Euridice lives again for the second time, so that the opera ends with celebrations and dancing.

There are quite a few recordings of Orfeo ed Euridice available in different formats today. It is now possible to hear the 1862 Viennese score conducted by Richter, with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau as Orfeo in an excellent rendition of the opera; Gundula Janowitz is a fine Euridice and Richter's conducting of the orchestra is most beautiful though certainly not in the "authentic" style. Another recording I love is the DVD I reviewed of Dame Janet Baker's retirement performance, where you will certainly not hear the Mezzo role of Orfeo or the Soprano role of Euridice better sung though the Amore is a little weak here and there. Productions are also appearing on disc of the French 1774 version, with the very high tenor, and these will also be worthwhile watching out for.

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