Gluck

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Gluck
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
ALBUM TITLE: Gluck: Orfeo ed Euridice
WORKS: Orfeo ed Euridice
PERFORMER: Bejun Mehta, Eva Liebau, Regula Mühlemann; Collegium 1704/Václav Luks; dir. Ondπej Havelka (∫esky´ Krumlov Castle, 2013)
CATALOGUE NO: DVD: 102 184; Blu-ray: 108 103

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This latest Orfeo ed Euridice DVD, while adding to the large number already available, comes across as distinctly different from its predecessors. In one way or another, all of those impose a particularised production slant on the simplicity and bareness of Gluck and Calzabigi’s musical and dramatic language, too often at considerable cost to just those revolutionary artistic qualities.

Ondˇrej Havelka’s film – for which his Orfeo, Bejun Mehta, functioned as artistic advisor – takes as its location the splendid Bohemian castle of ∫esk Krumlov, a UNESCO Heritage site famed for its restored, completely equipped 17th-century theatre. In fact, the magical theatre-interior and stage serve only for scenes on Earth and in the Elysian Fields; hell, and the journey back from it, unfold in and across the castle’s dark, richly atmospheric basement, staircases and passages. Cast and chorus wear period costume; the dance or pantomime numbers are treated in a simple ‘period’ way in attractive sympathy with the stylistic tenets of Václav Luks’s musical forces and keenly alert conducting.

At its best, indeed, in the unadorned unfolding of hell and then heaven, the experience strikes fire in a manner crucially lacking in other filmed Orfeos. Unfortunately, not even this one comes free of curious directorial glosses – such as the leading man nervously readying himself for performance during the overture, moments of bizarre tension between Orfeo and fellow mourners, an abrupt final separation for the supposedly reconciled lovers – revealing Havelka’s intention (according to the box blurb) of ‘combining period details with modern psychological interpretation’. And Mehta’s facial expressiveness, on which the direction so heavily depends, proves conspicuously limited. But since he is a superbly commanding, passionate interpreter of Gluck’s vocal lines, and since his cast colleagues give accounts of their music no less sensitive, the powerful impact of the whole survives those passing flaws.

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Max Loppert