Orfeo ed Euridice, Opera by C. W. Gluck
The premiere of Orfeo ed Euridice on 5 October 1762 at the Burgtheater in Vienna was a smashing success, and it established Christoph Willibald Gluck as one of the most avant-garde and innovative composers of Italian opera in the 18th century. His unique approach to musical drama comes alive once more, this time on the stage of Teatro dell’Opera di Roma in the Eternal City.
Gluck was blessed with a keen sense for dramaturgy, which the rigid norms of the opera seria of his times constrained greatly. As he developed Orfeo ed Euridice with the help of a kindred free spirit, the librettist Ranieri de’ Calzabigi, the composer worked hard to eliminate all the conventionally prescribed elements that did not contribute to the dramatic action. The result was something Vienna (and Europe) had never seen.
Orfeo ed Euridice tackles the mythological story of the otherworldly talented singer Orpheus who is so determined to bring his lover Eurydice back from the dead that he descends into hell to claim her back from Hades himself. Unlike the original myth, after many trials, the couple is reunited for good, thanks to a classic Greek drama finale brought about by a deus ex machina.
Gluck’s compositional approach to Orfeo ed Euridice is a breath of fresh air and feels modern and innovative even nowadays. Instead of technical solos that test the singers’ mechanical vocal ability, the arias and recitativos serve the action and the characters’ development instead.
A large part of the vocal material is assigned to dramatic choruses that, in the form of nymphs, furies, daemons, shepherds, fallen heroes and other mythical and human beings, add layers of characterisation and plot development in organic alternation with Orfeo’s emotional soliloquies.
Gluck’s avant-garde approach to operatic composition and narrative, in combination with the inspired poetry of de’ Calzabigi who masterfully merges classic dramaturgical convention with modern pacing, flow together in a work of lasting appeal. Orfeo ed Euridice has stood the test of time, and its many revivals are the best evaluation of its many qualities. The Rome Opera House tips its hat to a golden old classic this season.