27 August 2015 at 10.53am | 9 Comments
The Story Begins…
Orphée mourns the death of his beloved Eurydice. Amour tells him that if his singing can calm the Furies, he will be able to bring her back from the Underworld. But she warns Orphée that the Gods have decreed he will lose her again if he looks at her on their return journey. Can he obey their decree?
An Inspiring Myth
Orphée et Eurydice is a reworking of the story of Orpheus, a legendary musician who features in ancient Greek religion and myth. Most operatic versions of his story (including Gluck’s, and further examples by Monteverdi and Harrison Birtwistle) have placed a strong emphasis on dance and gesture, used in a way that enhances the sense of drama inspired by communal rituals. Orpheus has also been the subject of various ballets, including one by Stravinsky.
From Vienna to Paris
Gluck originally wrote Orfeo ed Euridice in Italian for performance in Vienna in 1762. It was the first of his several ‘reform operas’ in which emotive music (including recitatives with orchestral accompaniment) and powerful drama took priority over elaborate staging and virtuosic vocal writing, and in which the chorus are given great prominence. Orfeo was a triumph. Twelve years later Gluck wrote a French version for the Paris Opéra, rewriting the castrato role of Orphée for a tenor, and expanding the ballet music. Orphée/Orfeo has remained Gluck’s best known opera. Particular highlights include the Act II Dance of the Blessed Spirits and Orphée’s ‘J’ai perdu mon Eurydice’.
The Process of Mourning
John Fulljames and Hofesh Shechter’s production focusses on Orphée’s extreme grief after his wife’s death. During the funeral rituals at the opera’s opening, Orphée refuses to accept Eurydice’s death. Only as he goes through a grieving process, which takes him through the delirium of the underworld to an ecstatic rediscovery of Eurydice, does he comes to a deeper understanding of love and an acceptance of loss.
Gluck’s orchestra would have been placed in a shallow pit at the same level as the orchestra stalls of the theatre; in this production, the orchestra appears on stage. The English Baroque Soloists are performing on period instruments – the first time the Royal Opera House has had a period band on the main stage since 2010.
Orphée et Eurydice runs 14 September–3 October 2015. Tickets are still available.
The production is given with generous philanthropic support from Mrs Aline Foriel-Destezet, and is part of #Hofest.