Orfeo ed Euridice, Opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck
Orfeo ed Euridice, the outcome of Christoph Willibald Gluck's ideological and philosophical meditations, is a reform of the traditional Italian opera seria. Over two and a half centuries since its premiere on 5 October 1762 at the Burgtheater in Vienna, the piece is still notable for its direct musical style and pure-form story devoid of theatrical plot turns. Gluck also stripped the music of unnecessary ornamentation and excessively complex vocal lines that did not serve a particular dramatic purpose. Orfeo ed Euridice thus laid the foundation for an entirely new method of approaching opera. Echoes of this landmark approach can be heard in many later works by other Austrian and German composers, from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart to Richard Wagner. The myth of Orpheus in the masterful musical-theatrical interpretation of Gluck comes to Gran Teatro La Fenice in Venice.
The libretto to Orfeo ed Euridice came from Ranieri de’ Calzabigi who followed the plot of the classic mythological tale – with the important exception of the ending. Orpheus’ betrothed Euridice dies a sudden death, which leaves the god-like singer brokenhearted. To soothe his pain and restore hope, Amore (Cupid) descends from the heavens and tells him there is a way to bring his lost love back to life. Orpheus must descend in Hades, the underworld, and bring Euridice back, but he cannot look at her until they are out of the land of death. Excited beyond belief, the singer embarks on the perilous journey and overcomes all obstacles on his way thanks to his talent and his will to resurrect his one true love. As the two lovers are making their way out of Hades, however, an argument develops that leads Orpheus to look back and take Euridice’s life again. Unlike the myth, however, the opera has a happy ending thanks to Cupid’s divine intervention.
Powered by Gluck’s reformative ideas and musical talent, Orfeo ed Euridice is an opera that has stood the test of time, as this season’s production at Gran Teatro La Fenice confirms.