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8.660064 - GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice
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Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787)

Orfeo ed Euridice

The son of a forester who, by 1727, was in the service of Prince Philipp Hyazinth von Lobkowitz, Christoph Willibald Gluck was born in 1714 and spent his childhood in his native Bohemia, with its strong musical traditions. He studied at the University of Prague, while continuing his own musical activities, and by 1734 was in Vienna, it is supposed with the patronage of the Lobkowitz family. There followed a period in Italy, chiefly in Milan, during which he began to establish himself as a composer of opera. It was perhaps through his connection with the Lobkowitz family that he found himself in 1746 in London, commissioned to provide opera for the King’s Theatre, and the following years brought employment in various cities of Europe. In 1750 he married in Vienna and in the next years wrote operas on libretti by Metastasio for that city, for Prague, Naples and Rome, while serving first as Konzertmeister and then as Kapellmeister to the Prince of Saxe-Hildburghausen. For this patron he set Metastasio’s libretto Le cinesi, a sumptuous performance of which for the Emperor brought a satisfactory reward, not least in establishing Gluck in court circles. During the decade he collaborated with Count Durazzo, who had been appointed in 1754 to take charge of the two principal theatres of Vienna, particularly in the provision of adaptations of French opéra comique for the Viennese stage.

The collaboration with Durazzo was of great importance both for Gluck and for the history of opera. In 1755 he became court composer and in 1759 composer of ballets, with responsibility in the following year for theatre music. In 1761 he collaborated with the dancer and ballet-master Gasparo Angiolini in a new ballet d’action, a ballet with a story, following now current fashions, Don Juan ou Le festin de pierre (Don Juan or The Stone Guest). The arrival in Vienna that year of Ranieri de’ Calzabigi was the catalyst for a change of course for opera, now abandoning the conventions of Metastasian opera seria in favour of a new simplicity and a measure of dramatic realism. The first result of the joint work of Calzabigi, Angiolini and Gluck, under the encouragement of Count Durazzo, was Orfeo ed Euridice. There were to be two further ‘reform’ operas with Calzabigi, in 1767 Alceste (Naxos 8.66066-68) and in 1770 Paride ed Elena. Between 1774 and 1779 Gluck enjoyed considerable success in Paris, where a French version of Orfeo ed Euridice was staged in August, 1774, and an adaptation of Alceste two years later. The failure of his Ovidian Echo et Narcisse and ill-health brought him in 1779 back to Vienna, where he remained until his death in 1787.

Gluck later credited Calzabigi with the inspiration for Orfeo ed Euridice, a judgement in which the librettist himself fully concurred. Calzabigi laid particular stress on the relationship between opera and declamation, in one sense a return to the very origins of the form in its late sixteenth-century association with rhetoric. In his introduction to the work he explains that he has changed the scene of Eurydice’s death from Thrace to Campania, near to the reputed entrance to the Underworld near Lake Averno, thus preserving the Aristotelian unity of place. He further adapted the legend, according to which Orpheus had lost Eurydice by disobeying the prohibition laid on him not to look round at her as he left the Underworld, by conforming with the happy ending expected of the modern stage and avoiding the harsher ending outlined in his classical sources, Vergil’s fourth Georgic and the sixth book of the Aeneid. At the first performance, given on 5th October 1762 at the Burgtheater in Vienna, the part of Orpheus was taken by the castrato Gaetano Guadagni, with Marianna Bianchi as Eurydice and Lucile Clavereau as Cupid (Love).


[1] The lively overture touches briefly on something of the drama to come.

Act I

Scene 1

[2] Solemn music at the rise of the curtain reveals a lonely grove of laurels and cypresses, with the tomb of Eurydice, around which nymphs and shepherds lament, while Orpheus calls on his beloved.

[3] In a recitative Orpheus bids his companions to desist and leave him alone to mourn.

[4] The nymphs and shepherds continue their mourning dance.

[5] They end their lament and disperse.

[6]-[10] Orpheus calls out the name of his beloved Eurydice, weeping for her loss.

[11] He bitterly inveighs against the powers of the Underworld.

Scene 2

[12] The god of Love appears, offering help. Orpheus will be allowed to bring Eurydice back from the dead, if he can, with his music, placate the furies and spirits of Hades. In bringing her back, he must not turn to look at her, as she follows him back to the land of the living, nor may he explain to her the reason for his actions.

[13] Love urges Orpheus to follow this decree, reminding him that his suffering will be transitory and that lovers are sometimes without words.

[14] Orpheus is overjoyed, but foresees the difficulties he will encounter in Eurydice’s bewilderment at the behaviour commanded of him.

[15] There is thunder and lightning as he goes.

Act II

Scene 1

[16] The scene is set in the dreaded caverns of Hades. Furies and spectres dance their infernal dance, interrupted by the sound of the lyre of Orpheus.

[17] The spirits seek to know who dares to enter Hades, following the heroes Hercules and Pirithous.

[18] They resume their dance.

[19] The spirits repeat their question and call on the Eumenides and Cerberus to deter the mortal, if mortal he is.

[20] They resume their dance.

[21] Orpheus seeks to calm the Furies and spirits.

[22] They are partially placated by his pleas and ask Orpheus his purpose.

[23] Orpheus declares himself a fellow-sufferer with the spirits of Hades, with his own torments.

[24] The spirits are further mollified.

[25] Orpheus continues his pleas, if the spirits around him have ever felt the pangs of love.

[26] Now placated, the spirits give way and allow Orpheus to enter the gates of their realm. They disperse.

Scene 2

[27] The scene changes to a verdant countryside, meadows covered in flowers, arbours and murmuring streams. Orpheus is joined by heroes and heroines of old.

[28] Orpheus delights in the scene, but Elysium is not for him: his paradise is Eurydice, whom he now seeks.

[29] The heroes and heroines praise the courageous example of Orpheus.

[30] They dance.

[31] Orpheus is impatient to see Eurydice, who now appears.

[32] She is escorted by heroines of the past and Orpheus takes her hand and hurriedly leads her away.


Scene 1

[33] Orpheus leads Eurydice on the path to the upper world, always without looking at her. She is at first delighted and then puzzled and angry at the failure of her husband to embrace her or even look at her. He remains steadfast, still leading her on.

[34] Both are distressed by the situation, Eurydice by her husband’s seemingly unfeeling behaviour, and Orpheus by her importunity.

[35] Eurydice foresees future unhappiness and declares herself now unused to the troubles of humanity.

[36] She has passed from death to such sorrow.

[37] Eurydice pleads with Orpheus, who finally can resist no longer. He turns to look at her, and she dies.

[38] Orpheus laments the second death of his beloved.

[39] Now he only wants to follow her back to Hades, joining her in the journey over the Styx.

Scene 2

[40] As he is about to kill himself, Love intervenes, disarming him and bringing a reward for his love and constancy. Eurydice shall live again, and she comes to life again, waking as from a deep sleep. They are now re-united.

Scene 3

[41] At a sign from Love the scene changes to the temple of Love, where nymphs and shepherds celebrate the return of Eurydice, joined in their rejoicing by Orpheus.

Keith Anderson

Drottningholm Court Theatre

Drottningholms Slottsteater (Drottningholm Court Theatre) was built to the design of the theatre architect, Carl Fredrik Adelcrantz, at the request of Queen Lovisa Ulrika. The building was completed in 1766 and rests on the remains of an earlier theatre destroyed by fire in 1762. Drottningholm Slottsteater is built of simple materials. The decorations that adorn the auditorium form a theatrical game in stucco, papier mâché and paintings. During the eighteenth century the rooms off the auditorium acted as dwellings for the staff and as public rooms. In 1791 certain adjustments were made to the royal apartments and a foyer, the Déjournersalong, was built to the design of L. J. Desprez.

The stage measures twenty metres from the footlights to the back and is still one of the deepest in Sweden. The stage machinery, constructed by the Italian mechanic D. Stolpani, allows for quick changes of scenery while the curtain is up. In addition the stage has moving waves, trap-doors, cloudcars, lighting machinery and wind and thunder apparatus. Its heyday began in 1777 when Gustaf III took over the palace. The repertoire included foreign and Gustavian operas, opéras comiques, French classical dramas and pantomime ballets. After Gustaf’s death in 1792 Swedish theatrical life stagnated. Drottningholms Slottsteater was more or less forgotten. At the beginning of the 1920s the court theatre was ‘rediscovered’ by the literary and theatre historian Agne Beijer. Under his guidance the theatre was restored to its original condition. The stage machinery was fitted with new ropes and wax candles were replaced by electric lamps. The unique collection of original scenery, of which fifteen complete and twenty incomplete survive, have now been copied for use today.

The curtain rose again in the theatre on 19th August 1922. The performances, few at first, gradually increased, and the theatre acquired a growing international reputation as a festival theatre, with works by Haydn, Handel, Gluck and Mozart and numerous performances by artists and companies from abroad. The theatre soon became renowned for its reconstructions of eighteenth-century ballet and historically informed performance has become central to the theatre’s philosophy.

Drottningholms Slottsteater is administered by the Stiftelsen Drottningholms teatermuseum. Performances are financed mainly with contributions from the Swedish State and annual financial support from Föreningen Drottningholmsteatems Vänner (The Friends of Drottningholm). In addition to the theatre’s own productions, the Royal Opera, Stockholm gives guest performances each year. In 1991 the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO designated the theatre, together with Drottningholm Palace, the Chinese Pavilion and the surrounding park, a World Heritage site.

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