Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice, 1752
Friday August 25th &
Reforming opera seria
Gluck’s attempt to make
new things happen in
what he considered to be
the increasingly stuck-in-
the-mud world of
French opera – or azione
action’), as he would
have known it. How was
it stuck in the mud? Well,
it was over-mannered
and it was over-reliant on techniques that meant that
works with the loosest of plots were being allowed to
pass for operas. Gluck’s idea, which was developed by
composers such as Puccini years later, was to make opera
much more real. (ClassicFM) Gluck wrote 47 operas,
many on Greek mythology. Verdi only wrote 27.
From an article on the opera by John Eliot Gardiner:
The Orpheus myth is among the most ancient in western
literature. In essence, it celebrates the power of art –
specifically music – to vanquish death and remove its sting. Since
the very origins of opera, it has also been a way of heralding
See also WorldOfOpera.org.
Gluck’s attempts to remake opera seria predated
Mozart’s, and were influenced by Algarotti who argued
for drama, rather than ballet and staging. The
drama itself should "delight the eyes and ears,
to rouse up and to affect the hearts of an
audience, without the risk of sinning against
reason or common sense”. Orfeo ed Euridice
(1762) is the first of Gluck’s “reform” operas -
in which “he attempted to replace the abstruse
plots and overly complex music of opera seria
with a "noble simplicity" in both the music and
the drama.” Simpler storyline, and more
complex music, the orchestra telling it more
In Orpheus’ aria, "Che puro ciel": “the voice is
reduced to the comparatively minor role of
recitative-style declamation, while the oboe
carries the main melody, supported by solos
from the flute, cello, bassoon, and horn. There
is also accompaniment from the strings
(playing in triplets) and the continuo in the
most complex orchestration that Gluck ever
wrote.” Read more about Gluck’s innovations
and their later influence in Wikipedia.
Here’s Janet Baker as Orpheus singing "Che
puro ciel" in her farewell to the opera stage.
Compare with countertenor David Daniels
here. And the aria we all know - J'ai perdu mon
Eurydice – sung here by tenor Juan Diego
Florez as Orpheus at ROH.
He’s the ultimate demi-god, who could win
the other gods through the beauty of his
music. And the story - of rescue imperilled by
the requirement that emotions are concealed –
goes beyond Greek mythology (think Magic
Flute, Fidelio, Rheingold.)
And Gluck took the myth seriously – watch
the dance of the Furies at ROH .
Our Production (French version,
Orphée et Eurydice)
Magdalena Kozená (Orphée), Madeline
Bender (Eurydice) & Patricia Petibon
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, 2000.
Monteverdi Choir & Orchestre
Revolutionnaire et Romantique, John
Eliot Gardiner (conductor) & Brian Large
(director). Stage production by Robert
Wilson. English subtitles.
Review and discussion.