15 May 2006

GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice

Orfeo ed Euridice. Azione teatrale in three acts (Italian version).

Orphée et Eurydice. Tragédie opéra in three acts (French version).

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)
Ranieri de’ Calzabigi (Italian version)
Pierre Louis Moline based on Calzabigi (French version)

First Performance:

Italian Version 5 October 1762, Burgtheater, Vienna
French Version 2 August 1774, Paris Opéra

Principal Characters:

Italian version
Orfeo Alto Castrato
Euridice, his wife Soprano
Amore Soprano
French version
Orphée Tenor
Eurydice, his wife Soprano
Amour Soprano

Time and Place: Ancient Thrace


Act I

A chorus of nymphs and shepherds accompany Orfeo around Euridice's tomb in a solemn chorus of mourning. Orfeo is only able to utter Euridice's name. Orfeo sends the others away and sings of his grief in the aria Chiamo il mio ben cosi, the three verses of which are interrupted by expressive recitatives. Amore (Cupid) appears telling Orfeo that he may go to the Underworld and return with his wife on the condition that he not look at her until they are back on earth. Orfeo resolves to take on the quest (in the 1774 version, both Amore and Orfeo have extra songs).

Act II

In a rocky landscape, the Furies refuse to admit Orfeo to the Underworld, and sing of Cerberus, canine guardian of the Underworld. When Orfeo, accompanied by his lyre (represented in the opera by a harp), begs for pity in the aria Deh placatevi con me, he is at first interrupted by cries of "No!" from the Furies, but they are eventually softened by the sweetness of his singing and let him in. In the 1774 version, the scene ends with the Dance of the Furies.

The new scene opens in Elysium. The 1774 version includes here the much-excerpted Dance of the Blessed Spirits (Reigen der seligen Geister) in which a chorus sings of their happiness in eternal bliss. Orfeo finds no solace in the beauty of the surroundings, for Euridice is not yet with him. He implores the spirits to bring her to him, which they do.


On the way out of Hades, Euridice is delighted to be returning to earth, but Orfeo, remembering the condition related by Amore in Act I, lets go of her hand and refuses to look at her. Euridice takes this to be a sign that he no longer loves her, and refuses to continue, concluding that death would be preferable. Unable to take any more, Orfeo turns and looks and Euridice; she dies. Orfeo sings of his grief in the famous aria Che farò senza Euridice?

Orfeo decides he will kill himself to join Euridice in Hades, but Amore returns to stop him. In reward for Orfeo's continued love, Amore returns Euridice to life, and she and Orfeo are reunited. All sing in praise of Amore (in the 1774 version, this finale is greatly expanded, including a ballet).

[Synopsis: Wikipedia]

Click here for complete libretto (Italian version).