Notes and Editorial Reviews
When the historic Theatre du Chatelet in Paris re-opened after a period of extensive refurbishment, the first two productions mounted in the theatre were Gluck’s Alceste and Orphée et Eurydice. Both operas were sung in their French versions and were mounted and designed by Robert Wilson and conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. This was the first time Wilson and Gardiner had collaborated and their individual credentials combined to produce an exceptional result. American polymath Wilson was responsible for some of the most ambitious avant-garde performance projects of the 1970s and 80s.Since the mid-1980s he has increasingly brought his prodigious creativity to works fiom the standard dramatic and operatic repertoire, transforming them
into his own unmistakably minimalist yet grandiose visions.
His styled, classical interpretations of Alceste and Orphée bear his trademarks of an uncluttered stage and the arresting use of colour and light. They are not so much timeless as, in Robert Wilson’s words, “full of time." With their minutely rehearsed gestures, at once formal and poetic, the singers have the grace and elegance of Balanchine or Martha Graham dancers. A key figure in the revival of Early Music, John Eliot Gardiner has long been a champion of Gluck’s French operas and is a great Gluck conductor. He received enormous critical acclaim for his musical direction of both Orphée and Alceste at the Chatelet, as did his orchestras and chorus. He sought to rid the operas of any vestiges of remoteness or venerable respectability and to release the huge emotional charge that lies behind the beauty of Gluck’s classical sobriety. The stories are, after all, he says, not only poignant and deeply moving, they have an immediate and contemporary relevance: they portray two married couples striving to protect their union and their love, plumbing the very depths of their emotional strength and summoning the courage to make huge personal sacrifices. “If presented in a way that’s immediate and with tremendous intensity and truth of expression then all the dross and superficiality of the stage action falls away and you’re left with what’s actually a very visceral connection between two living people." Television’s top opera director, Brian Large, worked closely with Robert Wilson and John Eliot Gardiner to ensure that the translation of live performance to the small screen is of the highest artistic and techcal standard.
Subtitles: German, English
Region: 0 (all)
R E V I E W:
A great success on every level.
This remarkable production will divide opinion. Some authenticists will shrink from its highly stylised, minimalist production values and will find its minimalist stage tiresome. I loved it.
This DVD captures one half of a remarkable Gluck collaboration between John Eliot Gardiner and iconoclastic American stage designer Robert Wilson (the other half is
Alceste, also just released on EMI Classics). Wilson is famous for productions that feature highly stylised gestures, rigid facial expressions and utterly minimalist sets. His style is not to everyone’s taste, but I loved it. It might be overstating the case to compare his style to that of Wieland Wagner, but this production made me think of New Bayreuth many times. There is virtually no scenery, save a few rocks and a tree for Act 1. Instead effects are achieved through clever use of lighting, most notably at the moment when Orpheus finally turns to look at Eurydice. Wilson seems to set the action in a non-specific time and place: the characters wear decidedly plain costumes with no adornments at all and their hairstyles are all very similar. Gestures and acting are rigid and elaborate. Wilson’s style is entirely anti-naturalist, but if anything he made me reconnect with the story’s original roots in Greek tragedy. The characters’ faces seem like masks as they declaim their emotions. Interestingly, the underworld seems to be the mirror image of the world of humans: the scene and costumes are similar but are brightly lit as opposed to the funereal gloom of the upper world. Wilson suggests many layers of meaning without ever confronting you with an absolute truth, leaving us to invent our own interpretations. I was thoroughly convinced, and many of his stage pictures will live for a long time in my memory.
The vocal performances are all very good, crowned by the magnificent Orpheus of Magdalena Kožená. She is unrecognisable in a black wig and pale make-up, though this suits her male characterisation. Her rich, characterful mezzo is perfect for playing this role: her lower tones fit the male role, and she conjures beautifully plangent tones for Orpheus’ great Act 1 aria (
Objet de mon amour) and
J’ai perdu mon Eurydice flows smoothly. On the other hand she is thrilling in the heroic aria that ends Act 1, with marvellous coloratura and a fine cadenza to finish. Perhaps the highlight of her performance is the moment in Act 2 where Orpheus tames the Furies. She is genuinely seductive in the face of their adamantine refusals, and the braying of the period brass from the orchestra really increases the drama of the scene. She buys into Wilson’s vision of the story with her acting, and her statuesque performance of the opening scene makes Orpheus’ grief almost tangible. She is well contrasted with the bright, almost coquettish soprano of Patricia Petibon who has a lighter, brighter voice – and a lighter, brighter costume to match. Madeline Bender’s Eurydice takes a while to warm up, but once she does so she is a commanding presence and the blend of voices in the Act 3 duets is very fine. The Monteverdi Choir show themselves to be just as skilled at being an opera chorus as they are at singing Bach.
Holding it all together is Gardiner himself. He chooses the French version of the score and he sees it as an exciting, pacy drama, not just a meditation on grief. The whizz of the overture kicks off an exhilarating account of one of Gluck’s greatest scores, and the ORR responds in kind to Gardiner’s snappy vision. As someone used to older, less authentic performances I found Gardiner a breath of fresh air, blowing any cobwebs off the score. He reanimates the music, and ultimately this performance is
The only complaint is that there are no booklet notes at all, so we don’t know anything about the edition of the score Gardiner uses, nothing about the production, and not even a list of chapters.
Apart from that this is a great success on every level, with the veteran Brian Large ensuring the film direction is every bit as accomplished as the stage action.
Simon Thompson, MusicWeb International
Works on This Recording
Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph W. Gluck
Madeline Bender (Soprano),
Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano),
Patricia Petibon (Soprano)
John Eliot Gardiner
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Written: 1762/1774; Vienna, Austria
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