From a purely vocal point of view, this version of Gluck’s masterpiece stands among the most authentic on the market. The version is Berlioz’s, basically, translated back into Italian, and contains most of the music that Gluck added to his French retread (including the wonderfully scarifying Dance of the Furies–originally the finale to the ballet Don Juan). Berlioz was the last great composer familiar with the true Gluckian performance tradition, dating back to the composer himself, as preserved at the Opéra. So while the scoring has been updated, it does no disservice to Gluck’s original conception.
More importantly, Orfeo is sung as it would have been in Gluck’s day, absent a castrato (or tenor) in the title role–by aRead more female voice. The use of countertenor, as we find in most of today’s “authentic” performances, is an abomination that Gluck never would have tolerated. The vocal quality of a male falsettist, as far as we can tell, is quite different from that of a castrato, which is why there are no great Baroque operatic roles for countertenors even though they could be found hanging out in church choirs then and now. The modern conceit favoring their employment is just that: employment for countertenors. It serves no other musical purpose.
Now, this does not mean that there are no great countertenors, or no great performances of Orfeo on period instruments. We have both, but the point is that if “authenticity” is a criterion in making your selection, don’t kid yourself. And fine as some of those performances are, none captures the range and expressive depth of the title role as does Marilyn Horne. Whether lamenting over the loss of Euridice in Act 1, contesting with the Furies in Act 2, or pouring on the tone in Che farò, the greatest musical hit of the 1760s, she simply owns the part.
The remaining two members of the cast (three if you include the chorus) are also superb: Pilar Lorengar a querulous and ultimately loving Euridice, and Helen Donath impeccable as Amor. Solti conducts the piece like the gripping, sensational, expressive work that Orfeo really is. This is one of those operas (like most of Gluck) that gets respect more than it does love, from both players and listeners, but the fact is that this first great modern opera works just as well on the modern stage as it did in the 1760s, where it was distinctly ahead of its time. It deserves to be a popular success. The action is swiftly paced, there’s not a wasted note, and Gluck (even without Berlioz’s help) wrings about as much color from his limited forces as we have any right to expect. Listen to the tone painting at the start of Che puro ciel! It could have been composed yesterday.
Opulently recorded, and still packaged with the libretto and English translation, this set is one of those must-haves even for those with a limited interest in opera. It truly is a seminal work, and this remains its greatest recording.
Orfeo ed Euridiceby Christoph W. Gluck Performer:
Pilar Lorengar (Soprano),
Marilyn Horne (Mezzo Soprano),
Helen Donath (Soprano)
Sir Georg Solti
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Orchestra,
Royal Opera House Covent Garden Chorus
Period: Classical Written: 1762/1774; Vienna, Austria Date of Recording: 1970 Language: Italian Notes: Composition written: Vienna, Austria (1762). Composition revised: Paris, France (1774).
Orfeo ed Euridice: Overtura
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 1: Coro: "Ah, se intorno a quest'urna funesta"
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 1: Chiamo il mio ben così ... Amore assisterà
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 1: Se il dolce suon della tua lira
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 1: Aria: "Gli sguardi trattieni"
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 1: Recitativo: "Che disse? che ascoltai?"
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 1: Addio, addio i miei sospiri
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 2: Ballo (Maestoso) - Coro: "Chi mai dell'Erebo"
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 2: "Deh! placatevi con me"
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 2: Coro: "Misero giovane"
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 3: Aria: "Che farò senza Euridice?"
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 2: Ballo (Andante)
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 3: Orfeo, che fai?
Orfeo ed Euridice / Act 3: Gaudio, gaudio son al cuore