GLUCK: Orpheus und Eurydike, Blu-ray
Performers: Yann Bridard (Orpheus dancer)/ Marie-Agnes Gillot (Eurydike dancer)/ Miteki Kudo (Amor dancer)/ Maria Riccarda Wesseling (Mezzo)/ Julia Kleiter (soprano)/ Sunhae Im (soprano)/ Ballet l’Opera national de Paris/ Balthasar-Neumann Ensemble and Choir/ Thomas Hengelbrock, director
Produced by Francois Duplat
Studio: BelAir BAC444 [Distr. by Naxos]
Video: 16:9 1080p HD
Audio: PCM Stereo 2.0; DTS-HD Master Audio
Length: 104 minutes (live)
This is a production originally created in 1975 by noted choreographer Pina Bausch, who died in 2009 not long after this was mounted at the Paris Opera in 2008. It is, simply stated, for connoisseurs only. This is the type of production that turns away potential ballet lovers and opera lovers alike because it is neither, and each art form is such that merging the two inevitably produces contradictions and conflicts. Even though the notes say that Gluck himself was moving towards such a concept, and we all know how the French love their ballets, I find it highly unlikely that Gluck would have even recognized what has been done with his opera here.
The reason is not the abstract nature of this setting—that is to be expected in modern ballet. But what we get is the opera as sung in a normal fashion by the singers, only dual-acted, or even pantomimed by the dancers as well. So while we supposedly hear the singers telling the story of bereaved Orpheus charging into the underworld in order to bring out his beloved and short-lived wife Eurydike, in fact the singers are positioned in such a manner as to be almost unimportant commentators while the dancers attempt to describe this story. It is easy to see why they can’t—the plot doesn’t lend itself easily to such treatment, and so the dancers end up making lots of beautiful and balletic gestures without actually doing many motions that resemble what we think of as traditional ballet. The men wear flesh-colored underwear and the women limited see-though (barely) costumes; what the significance of this is I don’t know, so the whole production is one of hairy-chested males in their underwear making gestures that are expressive in and of themselves without being particularly attached to the storyline. The women compliment the men in many ways, but the males dominate, and one even senses some sort of a Greek chorus at work, albeit a silent one.
The scenery is very sparse, focusing on the bodies, which can be appropriate. But the most difficult thing about watching this is trying to figure out how to approach it; the singing and the dancing constantly get in each other’s way, and I found myself longing for either the opera in pristine form or a purely dance-vehicle.
The orchestra (period instruments) and singing are all terrific, as are the dancers, whatever it is they are doing, which seems rather detached and abstract, part of the problem when trying to tell a rather complex story. Sound and picture are fantastic – Blu-ray at its best, and the enthusiastic applause between acts and at the end proves that perhaps I haven’t a clue as to what I am talking about. Your call.
— Steven Ritter