Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

The filmis sung, played, danced and staged
in a style not inappropriate to the day of the opera’s premiere in 1762 on
the stage of the Baroque Theatre of ?esk˝ Krumlov in the Czech Republic—or
in the theater’s wings, stairs and basement, doing service for Orfeo’s
journey to the Underworld.

Aside from the soloists, the forces involved are all Czech. Collegium 1704
is an early-instruments ensemble led by V·clav Luks. He and the band perform
on early instruments, wearing proper uniforms and white wigs. Zdenek
Flemming’s sets reproduce eighteenth-century models, using appropriate stage
machines: roiling surf, descending clouds, fluttering birds; a formal Italian
garden for Elysium, a palatial interior for the conclusion. Andrea
Miltnerova’s choreography is of the era. Jana Zborilova’s costumes go
rather overboard “Goth” for the chorus of Furies but are otherwise such as
Gluck might have seen. The lighting wittily illuminates the action, character
and text. The director, Ond?ej Havelka, moves swiftly from scene to scene,
focusing tightly on his singers (excellent actors all), with gentle ribbing of
baroque convention—for instance, having Amor (the charming Regula M¸hlemann)
file his nails with an arrow, then use it to cut the rope with which Orfeo
attempts to hang himself.

Mehta, also credited as “Artistic Advisor,” is the focus of the entire
show, even his scruffy beard-style being replicated by most of the male chorus.
In the original (Vienna, 1762) version of the opera, which is used here, the
piece is almost a monodrama, its simple story unadorned with the subplots,
comic relief, showpiece arias of no point to the story that had been the rule
in opera hitherto. We focus here almost entirely on Orfeo’s emotions and the
deeds that grow out of them. When Amor descends in her flying cloud to coax
Orfeo on his quest, he seems stunned, as if he sees nothing, as if this entire
“revelation” is internal. The tacked-on happy ending demanded by Empress
Maria Theresa delights Eva Liebau’s Euridice, but Orfeo is disgusted and goes
off in a sulk to sit by himself in the theater seats, observing. (The happy
ending has always seemed bogus to me: Do we really get our loved ones back from
death if only we love them enough? I don’t think so. But that’s what is

It seems to be the theory of Mr. Havelka that the entire story is a
hallucination occurring in the head and heart and psyche of an Orpheus wracked
with guilt. Apparently (we learn in a “dumb show” flashback) he has
murdered Eurydice, who was jealous of his music and attempted to take his lyre.
With such perfect musical forces to pass the brief time span (75 minutes), we
may ignore the more puzzling subplots thus implied. Apparently Orpheus desires
Eurydice’s return not simply for love but to make amends for a deed that
drives him mad; when she does return, triumphantly, he departs alone, in
disgust. I found this unsettling, but it certainly solves the problem created
by the happy ending. The casual viewer, however, may be so won over by the
beauty of the film and the score, so delighted with the singing, as to ignore
the psychological twists and turns imposed on the plot.

Mehta sings with a bright, lustrous sheen and a prevailing melancholy color
that are most attractive, never hooting or forcing beyond his natural and
exceptional strength. His torment as Eva Liebau’s Euridice doubts his
sincerity is personal and persuasive, and his musicality includes charming
ornaments of the da capo of “Che farÛ senza Euridice.” The ladies
have a great deal less to sing but do it lavishly, with sweet voices and
elegant line.

John Yohalem

Recording details:

Liebau, M¸hlemann, Mehta; Collegium 1704, Luks. A film by Ond?ej
Havelka, filmed in the Baroque Theatre of ?esk˝ Krumlov Castle. Arthaus Musik
Blu-ray 108 103. 75 mins. In Italian, subtitles in six languages.

image_description=Orfeo ed Euridice (Arthaus Musik 108103)
product_title=Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice
product_by=A review by John Yohalem
product_id=Arthaus Musik [Blu-Ray] 108103