Gluck Orphée et Euridice
Juan Diego Flórez, Christiane Karg, Fatma Said; Hofesh Shechter Company; Chorus & Orchestra of Teatro Alla Scala/Michele Mariotti; dir. John Fulljames (Milan, 2018)
Belvedere DVD: 08052; Blu-ray: 08053 129 mins
This DVD captures a revival at La Scala of Covent Garden’s 2015 production of Gluck’s Orphée et Euridice – a definitive interpretation of this defining work. The 2018 revival re-unites the original cast members – tenor Juan Diego Flórez and the dancers of the Hofesh Shechter Company – while the new sopranos, Christiane Karg as Euridice and Fatma Said as the goddess L’Amour, along with the conductor Michele Mariotti, make the La Scala production even better than the original.
Gluck wrote two versions of his radically experimental opera – in 1762 for Vienna and in 1774 for Paris. Each is a quasi-monodrama, with just three soloists – the two title role characters and L’Amour – of whom Orpheus dominates completely. But the Paris version, often sniffed at by scholars, is I think the greater work. Here Gluck extended his dramatic technique of having the collective stand for the individual. In his 1762 original, chorus and orchestra had driven the action forward; in 1774 Gluck made the dancers do this as well. The lynchpin of Gluck’s experiment is Orpheus, whose inner life is the opera’s focus. The story of Orpheus using his music to persuade the gods to let him fetch his dead wife from the underworld, the gods’ condition that Orpheus not look back to see if she’s following, and his loss of Euridice when he does so, is enacted in Orphée et Euridice mostly by Orpheus and the dancers, spirits who alternately block and further his quest. As in 2015, Flórez burns up the stage, vocally and dramatically. His voice is Orphic: supple, strong, many-hued and profoundly expressive; his inner turmoil is gripping. Choreographer Hofesh Shechter is a poet himself, transforming Gluck’s musical innovations into dances as gorgeous as they are disturbing. Despite its inferior set and costumes, this Orphée et Euridice combines voice, dance and instruments brilliantly, and in ways that only a DVD can capture.