Orfeo ed Euridice
New Production Theater an der Wien
The fascinating legend of Orpheus that tells of the power of music and song has inspired many composers down the ages, among them Christoph Willibald Gluck. Gluck first met the librettist Ranieri de’Calzabigi at the emperor’s court in Vienna, and together they decided to create a new ideal of music theatre with their work Orfeo ed Euridice. They wanted music that was simple and natural, devoid of unnecessary flamboyance. In their efforts to capture the spirit and place special emphasis on the “genuinely human” Gluck and Calzabigi restricted plot and characterisation to the strictly necessary.
Orpheus laments the death of Eurydice and demands that the gods return her. The gods grant him permission to descend into the underworld bring Eurydice back. However, he is strictly forbidden to look at her before he has returned to the Earth: if he does, she will be lost to him forever. With his singing and lyre playing Orpheus succeeds in appeasing the furies, who then allow him to pass into the realm of shades. There he meets Eurydice, takes her hand and starts to lead her back to the world of the living with his gaze averted. But the path is long and Eurydice bemoans Orpheus’ incomprehensible coldness. Eventually he can resist no longer and takes her in his arms. She immediately drops lifeless to the ground. In the end, Amore brings her back to life again, because her dying twice has in fact only been a test of devotion.
Gluck’s music is characterised by great melodic beauty and tremendous drama. He comments: “I have regarded music not simply as a way of amusing the ears but also as one of the most effective means of touching the heart and arousing emotion. I have consequently chosen to work on a dramatic plot and tried to find great and eloquent expression.” Far removed from the stereotypes of the opera seria, Orfeo ed Euridice combines scenes consisting of lyrical songs, choruses, dance and stirring orchestral interjections that all merge seamlessly.