Notes and Editorial Reviews
This magnificent new recording of Chistoph Willibald von Gluck’s Paride ed Elena from Archiv will doubtless win many new friends for one of the two most neglected works of the composer’s maturity (the other is Echo et Narcisse). Paride ed Elena is the third of the “reform” operas composed by Gluck in Vienna and set to librettos by the brilliant Ranieri de Calzabigi. As the first two, Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste, were already recognized masterpieces, anticipation was keen for the success of this “feste” creation, which premiered on November 30, 1770, with a stellar cast that included the most famous soprano castrato in the world, Giuseppe Millico. Nonetheless, despite having one of the most lyrically beautiful scores ever composed by
Gluck, the opera was not successful, being performed about 20 times in Vienna and once only in Naples (1777).
For such an obscure work, Paride ed Elena has been extremely lucky on records. A live performance from Italy in 1983 was preserved on an old MRF “pirate” and boasts, as Elena, Katia Ricciarelli in her most limpid and lovely vocal state. A 1986 recording on Orfeo has done honorable service for Paride ed Elena on CD. The Paride on the Orfeo recording, Franco Bonisolli, sings nobly and expressively in the grand bel-canto tradition of Alessandro Bonci. More importantly, he is a heroically virile Paride deserving of the worthy Elena of the great Ileana Cotrubas, although she is not in her finest voice. The transposition of the role of Paride from soprano castrato to tenor serves the drama well; we never lose sight that we are hearing a succession of passionate love duets. The conducting by Lothar Zagrosek is all one could ask of a Gluck maestro. But as admirable as these predecessor recordings are, the new set from Archiv rises to an altogether higher plane—indeed, it is among the very finest complete recordings of a Gluck opera. Moreover, with singing that is the stuff of legends, this new Paride ed Elena may be the most perfectly accomplished new opera recording of any work I’ve heard in many years.
The Archiv recording originated in a series of concerts led by Paul McCreesh and was made in November 2003 in All Saints Church, Tooting, London. The time lapse between recording and release is a little longer than usual perhaps, but is just as welcome in 2005. With so much zealotry afflicting the early-music movement, I was glad to read conductor McCreesh’s declaration that “Playing on period instruments has nothing to do with any sense of moral righteousness deriving from the fact that they may or may not be historically accurate. It’s because they are better for the job, which makes it easier to get the sound that I want.” Though this is unquestionably a triumph of authentic-instruments performance, in this case by the Gabrieli Consort and Players, the success is due to the excellence of the players, rather than their instruments. I admire Mr. McCreesh for making the wise decision not to use a countertenor in a role written for a soprano castrato, and I have enormous respect for a conductor who observes, “There might be a few comedy acts who can sing at that pitch, but a male falsettist just couldn’t get the range of colors and the dramatic contrasts.” The direct consequence of his decision is that instead of the frail and artificial sound of a countertenor, we get the extraordinarily gifted Magdalena Kožená, a rising star in peak form for this performance. Ms. Kožená has it all: personality, dramatics to burn, beauty of tone, highly accomplished coloratura, and a pinpoint trill. She steps fearlessly into the bravura role created by Millico and makes it her own, beginning with a poised “O del mio dolce ardor.” She is joined in one sensuous duet after another by the soprano Susan Gritton as Elena, and together they provide the kind of seamless duet singing made legendary by pairs like Rosa Ponselle and Marion Telva, and Joan Sutherland and Marilyn Horne. Long arching lines of perfectly spun legato, dotted with trills and ornamentation sprinkled liberally at just the right moments. It’s all ravishingly beautiful—one wants it to go on forever. Although Susan Gritton sings one climactic note a little raw in “Lo potrò” (why was this not re-recorded?), she more than redeems herself with an eloquent “Donzelle semplici,” perhaps the vocal and dramatic climax of the opera. Carolyn Sampson and Gillian Webster are equally fine in their parts.
The conducting of Paul McCreesh cannot be gainsaid. With the help of Richard Campbell, he has made a slight revision to the last part of the opera, one I don’t see the necessity for, but it’s fairly innocuous, and since he has recorded it as printed in the score in an appendix (easily accessed with digital controls), no real harm is done. In climax after climax, in dance highlight after dance highlight, Mr. McCreesh’s dynamic energy seizes us in its grip—at times, I wanted to jump out of my chair with excitement. What a contrast this Paride ed Elena offers to the Gluck sets by conductors like René Jacobs, Marc Minkowski, and John Eliot Gardiner. Gardiner, unfortunately, has ruined too many of his recordings with relentlessly fast speeds; Minkowski, a more talented baton, casts his Gluck recordings with inferior vocalists. Many of my colleagues have heaped lavish praise on opera recordings by René Jacobs, most especially his Le nozze di Figaro, as well as his clever but too often empty-hearted Orfeo ed Euridice. To my thinking, Jacobs’s Figaro was an exercise in “what ifs,” and, with vocalists unable to make sense of the conceptual choices in vocal ornamentation, let alone breathe life into the characters, remains a poster child for musicology gone amuck. Jacobs has also recorded Gluck’s Echo et Narcisse, a 1987 effort that has almost no merit except that it’s the lone recording of the opera, and for that reason alone stays on my shelf. Now we have this Paride ed Elena led by Paul McCreesh, an equally eminent early-music specialist, which completely avoids being pedantic or experimental, yet meets every challenge called for in opera performance: every ornamentation, every decorated da capo has a rightness to it that seems integral to the music, there are no stylistic anomalies and each soprano vocalist is unmistakably individual in her portrayal. Perhaps this near-ideal recording may not restore Paride ed Elena to the repertoire, but it will surely be spinning in CD players for years to come.
James Camner, FANFARE
Works on This Recording
Paride ed Elena by Christoph W. Gluck
Magdalena Kozená (Soprano),
Susan Gritton (Soprano),
Carolyn Sampson (Soprano),
Gillian Webster (Soprano)
Written: 1770; Vienna, Austria
Date of Recording: 10/2003
Venue: All Saints' Church, Tooting, London
Length: 146 Minutes 19 Secs.
Paride ed Elena: Overture
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 1: Non sdegnare
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 1: "O del mio dolce ardor"
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 1: Ballo
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 1: Dell'aurea sua stella - Ballo
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 1: "Spiagge amate"
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 2: Stranier, la mia Regina
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 2: Ma, chi sei
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 3: Felice te, che possessor sarai
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 3: Nell'idea
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 3: Ballo A
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 3: Ballo B
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 3: Ballo C. Maestoso
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 3: Ballo D. Amabile moderato
Paride ed Elena / Act 1 / Scene 3: Ballo E. Allegro
Paride ed Elena / Act 2 / Scene 1: Si presenti, mi vegga
Paride ed Elena / Act 2 / Scene 2: Regina! O Dei
Paride ed Elena / Act 2 / Scene 2: Forse più d'una belta
Paride ed Elena / Act 2 / Scene 3: Tutto qui mi sorprende
Paride ed Elena / Act 2 / Scene 3: "Le belle immagini"
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Introduzione. Maestoso
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Prence, la tua presenza
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Dalla reggia rilucente
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Negli strali, nell'arco possente
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Aria per i Atleti
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Non più! L'eroe trojano
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Coro d'Atleti
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Per te, signor
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Quegli occhi belli
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Misero! Ahimè!
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Fingere più non so
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Maestoso
Paride ed Elena / Act 3: Chaconne
Paride ed Elena / Act 4 / Scene 1: Temerario! E non basta
Paride ed Elena / Act 4 / Scene 2: Vengo, o Regina!
Paride ed Elena / Act 4 / Scene 2: Ah, lo veggo
Paride ed Elena / Act 4 / Scene 2: Non lontana esser già parmi
Paride ed Elena / Act 4 / Scene 3: Sì, spietata. s'accende
Paride ed Elena / Act 4 / Scene 3: "Di te scordarmi"
Paride ed Elena / Act 4 / Scene 4: Lo temei: non mi sento
Paride ed Elena / Act 4 / Scene 4: Lo potrò!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 1: Elena a me s'asconde!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 1: Donzelle semplici
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 1: Consolati, o Regina!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 2: Opportuno giungesti
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 3: T'inganni, il tuo destino
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 3: Va coll'amata in seno
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 4: Che udii?
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 4: Sempre a te sarò fedele!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 5: Andante
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 5: Allegro
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 5: Altri mai da ignota sponda
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 5: Vieni al mar!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 5: Vieni al mar!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 5: Presto fugge la beltà
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Scene 5: Sempre a te sarò fedele!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Appendices: Andante
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Appendices: Allegro
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Appendices: Vieni al mar!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Appendices: Vieni al mar!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Appendices: Altri mai da ignota sponda!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Appendices: Vieni al mar
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Appendices: Presto fugge la belta!
Paride ed Elena / Act 5 / Appendices: Sempre a te sarò fedele!
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