Christoph Willibald Gluck
ORFEO ED EURIDICE
Azioneteatrale per musica – theatrical action for music in 3 acts (prod. Vienna 1762) in the original Italian language version
Lighting design | Paweł Murlik
Multimedia | Hektor Werios
Director Assistant | Bartosz Buława
Euridice | Maria Domżał / Barbara Zamek
Amore | Sylwia Stępień / Eliza Safjan
From the director
Christoph Willibald Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice is one of the most beautiful pieces of classical music that tells the story about love that is put to the test. Orpheus, after Eurydice’s death, gets a chance to descend to the Underworld and bring his beloved wife back to the world of the living. The condition, however, is that he will not look at her until they are back on earth. Amore, the Jupiter’s messenger, is the one who puts Orpheus to this task. Orpheus resolves to take on the quest and descends to Hades, appeasing the Furies. Amore’s prophecy fulfills and Orpheus finds his loved one. Before them, there is only a way back that will prove far more challenging than one would suppose.
Our idea for presenting the Gluck’s work was to create a multi-dimensional dance and musical spectacle that will combine the classical and contemporary form of expression. In order to reflect the archetypal character of the work (perpetuated by the tradition of the myth) in the stage and costume design, we will refer to antiquity. Orpheus and Eurydice will appear on the stage as statues that will have their counterparts among the dancers (alter ego). They will express their emotions, that were stock-still by the premature separation of the spouses. Along with the action, their characters will become more and more human and the climactic meeting of Orpheus and Eurydice will show that when it comes to the history of mankind in the matter of relations outside the context and historical time nothing has really changed.
Orpheus and Eurydice, since its premiere on October 5, 1762 at the Burgtheater in Vienna, has been successfully staged at the world opera houses winning the hearts of music lovers.
The Polish premiere took place fourteen years after the world premiere (1776) and two years after the Paris staging, which showed the world a new version of the work. The aforementioned novelty was deviation from engaging the castrato in the main part, and entrusting it to the tenor, in accordance with the past trends. The popularity and timeless beauty of the work is evidenced by the fact that it was adapted by Hector Berlioz himself, which led to the creation of a new Italian language version of this piece, that conquered Italy’s leading stages (including La Scala) and, led by Arturo Toscanini, delighted music lovers of the New York Metropolitan Opera.
Such masters of the Kapellmeister tradition as Bruno Walter, Pierre Monteux or Wilhelm Furtwängler stood behind the conductor’s stand leading the Orpheus and Eurydice. With time, in the name of achieving stage realism, the work was followed by another new versions in which the main male part was dedicated to the baritone.
This multitude of versions caused that the original Gluck’s French-language version had been forgotten for some time, and Fritz Reiner himself returned to it in London, Covent Garden (1937).
The music director of the work’s premiere is Stefan Plewniak, an artist who is said to be one of the most electrifying names of this decade of the 21st century. He is one of the most prominent baroque violinist of the young generation, a graduate of the Academy of Music in Cracow, the Conservatory Maastricht in the Netherlands and the Conservatoire National Superier de Musique et Danse de Paris. The artist’s experience with performing the early music on period instruments according to the principles of the era is of great importance here, as he will lead the Ancient Instruments Ensemble of Warsaw Chamber Opera – Musicae Antiquae Collegium Varsoviense.
A chorus of nymphs and shepherds join Orfeo around the tomb of his wife Euridice in a solemn chorus of mourning; Orfeo is only able to utter Euridice’s name (Chorus and Orfeo: “Ah, se intorno”). Orfeo sends the others away and sings of his grief in the aria “Chiamo il mio ben”, the three verses of which are preceded by expressive recitatives. Amore (Cupid) appears, telling Orfeo that he may go to the Underworld and return with his wife on the condition that he not look at her until they are back on earth. As encouragement, Amore informs Orfeo that his present suffering shall be short-lived with the aria “Gli sguardi trattieni”. Orfeo resolves to take on the quest.
In a rocky landscape, the Furies refuse to admit Orfeo to the Underworld, and sing of Cerberus, its canine guardian (“Chi mai dell’Erebo”). When Orfeo, accompanied by his lyre (represented in the opera by a harp), begs for pity in the aria “Deh placatevi con me”, he is at first interrupted by cries of “No!”/”Non!” from the Furies, but they are eventually softened by the sweetness of his singing in the arias “Mille pene”/”Ah! La flamme” and “Men tiranne”/”La tendresse”, and let him in (“Ah, quale incognito affetto).
The second scene opens in Elysium. Orfeo arrives and marvels at the purity of the air in an arioso (“Che puro ciel”/”Quel nouveau ciel”). But he finds no solace in the beauty of the surroundings, for Euridice is not yet with him. He implores the spirits to bring her to him, which they do (Chorus: “Torna, o bella”).
On the way out of Hades, Euridice is delighted to be returning to earth, but Orfeo, remembering the condition related by Amore in act 1, lets go of her hand and refusing to look at her, does not explain anything to her. She does not understand his action and reproaches him, but he must suffer in silence (Duet: “Vieni, appaga il tuo consorte”). Euridice takes this to be a sign that he no longer loves her, and refuses to continue, concluding that death would be preferable. She sings of her grief at Orfeo’s supposed infidelity in the aria “Che fiero momento”. Unable to take any more, Orfeo turns and looks at Euridice; again, she dies. Orfeo sings of his grief in the famous aria “Che farò senza Euridice?” (“What shall I do without Euridice?”) Orfeo decides he will kill himself to join Euridice in Hades, but Amore returns to stop him. In reward for Orfeo’s continued love, Amore returns Euridice to life, and she and Orfeo are reunited. After a four-movement ballet, all sing in praise of Amore (“Trionfi Amore”).