Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

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COMPOSERS: Gluck
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Orphée et Eurydice
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter, Barbara Hendricks, Brigitte Fournier; Monteverdi Choir, Lyon Opera Orchestra/John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 56885 2 Reissue (1989)
The landmark stages of Gluck’s most famous opera are its original 1762 Vienna version (in Italian, with an alto castrato Orpheus), and the one recomposed for Paris 12 years later (much longer, in French, with a tenor). But a third stage has proved equally significant: the version – in French, but shortened and restored to alto pitch – that in 1859 Berlioz devised for the mezzo Pauline Viardot. This returned the work to the repertoire after years of dormancy.

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EMI’s 1989 Gardiner recording, with von Otter in the Viardot role and offering for the first time a ‘pure’ version of Gluck-Berlioz, proved to be of considerable interest – as much, perhaps, to the Berliozian as to the Gluckian. Two further such Orphée recordings followed: Donald Runnicles’s on BMG and Patrick Peire’s on the French label Forlane, with, respectively, Jennifer Larmore and Eva Podles.

Returning to Gardiner’s has proved a slight disappointment: it shows all his wonted flair and command of style, but nothing like the inwardness or dramatic force of his 1991 original-version Orfeo for Philips; and EMI’s leading trio, expert singers all, strike me as cool and drained of character, quite outclassed by their BMG opposite numbers (though Runnicles is a rather unstylish, erratic Gluck conductor).

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For my single recording of the opera I’d choose neither of these nor the Forlane: Gardiner’s Philips set is a gramophone classic. Max Loppert