Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Gluck
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Orfeo ed Euridice
PERFORMER: Ann-Christine Biel, Maya Boog, Kerstin Avemo; Drottningholm Theatre Chorus & Orchestra/Arnold Östman
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660064
On the face of it, the original Viennese version of Orfeo on a single CD for a fiver looks a ridiculous bargain. Don’t rush in yet, though. For a start, this new recording, made at performances at the Drottningholm Festival, cuts the ballet sequence at the end, not only depriving us of some exquisitely graceful music but making the happy ending seem more perfunctory than it need. Elsewhere marked repeats in the dances are routinely omitted. And some of Östman’s tempi, especially in Orfeo’s arias, sound brisk to the point of impatience. The most serious problem, though, is the casting of the hero, the litmus test of any Orfeo. Ann-Christine Biel, a one-time soprano, has her moments, especially in Orfeo’s Act III exchanges with Euridice. But her legato and tone production are uneven, and her voice does not ‘speak’ naturally in the role’s low tessitura; in compensation, she tends to force her chest register, with ugly results. For much of the time, too, she seems dramatically pallid: there is no cumulative intensity in her Act I lament, no special urgency in her appeals to the Furies, while ‘Che puro ciel’ sounds more like a routine stroll in the local park rather than an expression of wonderment at the Elysian Fields. Östman’s other soloists – Kerstin Avemo a bright Amor and Maya Boog an appealing, rather virginal-toned Euridice – are worth hearing, and the chorus sings with spirit – though the crucial impact of the Furies’ first fortissimo eruption is muted when delivered, as here, off-stage. If you’re strapped for cash, this new version will give you a fair idea of the terrain. But for a full realisation of this most elementally moving of operas, albeit at several times the price, go for Gardiner (Philips) or, my own favourite, René Jacobs, with Bernarda Fink an Orfeo of true classical nobility. Richard Wigmore

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