Opting for the French-language version of Orpheus, David Alagna was faced with the task of achieving an appropriately subtle adaptation. In a plot transposed to the present day, Eurydice dies in a car accident on the day of her wedding and Orpheus's quest for his beloved is a dream beginning and ending at the cemetery. No happy ending in this interpretation, but a new approach to characterisation: Amore, sung by a baritone, becomes a funeral parlour employee and Orpheus' guide. Orpheus, of course, loses his loved one forever by turning to look back. World famous tenor Roberto Alagna throws himself body and soul into this production. His incredible vitality, flawless timbre and diction make him a great Orpheus. His partner, young Italian soprano Serena Gamberoni, is simply stunning as Eurydice, while French baritone Marc Barrard is suitably terrifying as the guide to the Underworld. The orchestra is conducted by Giampaolo Bisanti, who masterfully brings out all Gluck's poetry, romantic melancholy and depth.
Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) represents the first of a series of operatic successes by the German composer Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714-1787). It is his best-known opera and his greatest reform work (first performed in Vienna on 5 October 1762). Gluck broke every courtly convention governing the operatic art form of the time. He strove for naturalness and simplicity in both subject and music. Gluck liberated opera from its rigid confines, refrained from the pointless embellishment of arias, and replaced the recitativo secco with orchestral recitatives or recitativo accompagnato, creating through-composed forms of unprecedented drama. He also gave lyricism a greater significance in relation to the music. Gluck's importance in opera's overall history is matched only by Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Richard Wagner…
Otmar Suitner was archetypical of the type of Central European conductor who comes up through the ranks (i.e., opera house, theater, or if an instrumentalist, house orchestra) and worked his way up to leadership by dint of musicality. Some move on to what is essentially international "stardom," such as the case with Karajan or Klemperer.
The packaging for this recording, though handsomely produced, gives a perplexing impression of the content of the CDs. The album's title (in French) is Philémon et Baucis, though there is no reference to that title in the extensive program notes, which focus exclusively on a work called Le Feste d'Apollo. In fact, Le Feste d'Apollo, premiered in 1769, consisted of a prologue and three unrelated short acts, each a self-contained opera, with texts by four different Italian poets. This CD set includes two of those operas, Aristeo and Bauci e Filemone, the third opera being an early version of Orfeo ed Eurydice written in 1762, 12 years before the definitive French version of Gluck's masterpiece.
‘Perhaps the best of all my works’, said Gluck of his Armide. But this, the fifth of his seven ‘reform operas’, has never quite captured the public interest as have Orfeo, Alceste, the two Iphigenies and even Paride ed Elena. Unlike those works it is based not on classical mythology but on Tasso’s crusade epic, Gerusalemme liberata. No doubt Gluck turned to this libretto, originally written by Quinault, to challenge Parisian taste by inviting comparison with the much-loved Lully setting. Its plot is thinnish, concerned only with the love of the pagan sorceress Armide, princess of Damascus, for the Christian knight and hero Renaud, and his enchantment and finally his disenchantment and his abandonment of her; the secondary characters have no real life. Its style, largely determined by the structure of the libretto, is closer to the French tragedie-lyrique traditions than are Gluck’s more familiar operas, with its short airs gliding into arioso and recitative.
It may seem surprising that this is the first complete recording of Gluck's one-act opera (or, as he called it, serenata teatrale) La corona (The Crown) after more than 240 years. The work was never performed during Gluck's lifetime; written for the name day of Francis I, husband of Habsburg empress Maria Theresa, it was rendered irrelevant by the dedicatee's death in 1765. The listener will discover soon enough why no one has thought to revive the work since then.
Most opera fans are familiar with Gluck the reformist – the composer of Orphée et Eurydice who sought to balance drama and music in his works. But few know his early works which show him to be a master of the Baroque opera seria tradition he later rejected. L'innocenza giustificata, a festa teatrale written in 1755, is one of these works. Its structure – cobbled together from aria texts by Pietro Metastasio, but with new recitatives by Giacomo Durazzo – already shows a desire to create more dramatic continuity and interest than was commonly found in the Baroque period.