GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice (complete opera), Blu-ray (2014)Bejun Mehta (Orfeo)/Eva Liebau (Euridice)/ Regula Muhlemann (Amore)/ Collegium 1704/ Collegium Vocale 1704/ Vaclav Luks Director: Ondrej Havelka Studio: ArtHaus (Unitel Classica) 108 103 [Distr. by Naxos] Video: 16:9 1081p HD Audio: Italian PCM Stereo, DTS-HD MA Surround 5.0 Subtitles: German, English, French, Italian, Korean, Spanish No Region Code Length: 75 minutes Rating: ****
As you can see by the title, this opera, Gluck’s most popular and the first of his so-called “reform” operas which led to simplification of plot and narrative, and paved the way towards opera seria, is given in the original 1762 Vienna version, sung in Italian. The composer, ever conscious of French demands, would revise the work 12 years later in in 1774 and add ballet sequences, including the famous “Dance of the Furies” and “Dance of the Blessed Spirits”, both absent here. The result of the original makes for a tighter, much more condensed telling of the story, surely what the composer preferred, as beautiful as the later sequences are. The rewrite was also for a high tenor voice, the castrato in the original not really a part of the French tradition.
Whether substituting a countertenor for a castrato in this role makes any musical sense, I will leave to the listener to decide. Though Mehta is decidedly a fine musician one still gets the sense that the role is miles away from what the power of a true castrato must have brought to the part, and I am not sure that a brilliant soprano playing a trouser role would not suit the opera better. Nevertheless, we know that Gluck specified “high tenor” in the rewrite, though I doubt he had a countertenor in mind. But like I said, Mehta is a fine musician with an extraordinary technique and gives his all to the performance, as does his counterpart in Eva Liebau, playing Euridice with sympathy and fine tone.
This production was made in one of the oldest still functioning theaters in the word, the beautiful and seductive Baroque Theater of Cesky Krumlov Castle. It is one of the cultural jewels of the Czech Republic, and an ideal place to film this standard-bearing opera. Did I say film? Yes indeed, the 75 minutes of Gluck’s first go round has been filmed in this production, with a curiously effective amalgamation of theater and “real life”, if you will, with the dark allures of the castle giving a spooky and wonderfully affected feeling of a genuine Baroque experience. It is here where the singing actors really thrive, with some very good close ups and truly fine performances solely from the point of acting ability. According to the notes Bejun Mehta as artistic advisor was one of the driving forces behind this production, and with the stellar sound, haunting video and thoroughly professional approach to this classic work, one must say that he is quite successful.