About this Recording
8.660185-86 - GLUCK: Orphee et Euridice
English  French  German 

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714–1787)
Orphée et Euridice

There have been three significantly different versions of Gluck’s work before the public since Orfeo was first produced in 1762. Gluck composed his first version in Vienna and in Italian. The second he revised (in French) and expanded for Paris in 1774, and the third is one which Gluck’s admirer Hector Berlioz revised in Paris in 1859. Of the many differences between these versions, the most prominent is the voice used for Orpheus: in 1762 Gluck wrote the rôle for a castrato, in 1774 he rewrote it for a tenor, and in 1859 Berlioz rewrote it again for a female alto. It is a variant of the Berlioz version, though translated back into Italian, which has been heard most often in the opera house of the last century. More recently the 1762 version has been recreated with a counter–tenor in the title rôle. The 1774 Paris version, however, which was the most popular version in the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, is only now receiving its due.

The high tenor, or haut-contre, was a voice that French composers of the eighteenth century cultivated and challenged, and which Gluck made remarkable use of in this version of Orphée. The relatively low pitch of the Paris Opera orchestra in the eighteenth century, and its apparent flexibility, helped make the tenor’s high tessitura possible. (Rousseau and others said that the Opera orchestra actually varied its pitch depending on the needs of the singers.) Period-instrument orchestras today again play at these lower pitches (ours is A=392), and they offer a different and more comfortable set of sonorities and articulations with which to accompany this vocal range.

In addition to rewriting the title rôle for tenor, Gluck’s other changes to the 1774 version of Orphée et Euridice involved the incorporation of new dances and airs for the Parisian stage. The flute solo from the Ballet des Ombres Heureuses is certainly the most famous of these. Additionally Gluck reworked and orchestrated the opera’s recitatives.

Our recording is based upon the very first Paris performance on 2nd August, 1774. In addition to fragments of an autograph score, we consulted the performance materials for this Parisian début found in the Bibliothèque Nationale, including the conductor’s score, a choral score, and the livret (the pre-prepared text for the audience.) We compared each of these to the Bärenreiter edition, a kind of compendium of various Paris performances in the late eighteenth century. Not only was the conductor’s score in particular very helpful with regard to interpretive matters, but it also indicated ways in which the 2nd August 1774 performance was shorter than subsequent eighteenth-century versions. These initial performance materials suggested, for instance, that at the end of Act I, Scene 1, the récit ‘Eloignez-vous’ directly follows the Pantomime, which then proceeds directly to the Choeur, without a ritournelle. The materials also indicated that the tenor Legros decided not to attempt the ariette ‘L’espoir renaît’ at the end of Act I. (Legros was known for his beautiful high notes but not, it seems, for his agility). We have decided to keep it, however, as Jean- Paul Fouchécourt negotiates it with ease. In Act III, Scene 2, the conductor’s score suggests that L’Amour’s récit with Orphée and Euridice moves directly into the final chorus, without an additional trio, and that the chorus finishes the work without an additional ballet. These indications preserve a direct and dramatic finish, at least within the conventions of late eighteenth-century opera. The greatest conventional change to the story is of course the one described in the Argument of the livret, which states that ‘to adapt this fable to our stage, it has been necessary to change the catastrophe and to add the episode in which Love reunites husband and wife’.

Soon after the 1774 début, more dances were added for other Parisian performances. Most of these dances Gluck borrowed from his earlier works. In 1776 Orphée et Euridice was choreographed by the famous Jean- Georges Noverre. For our public performance of the work we engaged the choreographer Catherine Turocy and the New York Baroque Dance Company, and added a final ballet, or divertissement.

For this recording we are pleased to be able to present the 1774 version of Orphée as sung by a tenor experienced in the major rôles of eighteenth-century French opera. We hope that it will breathe new life into Gluck’s magnificent retelling of a myth which has been so central to our collective imagination for many centuries.

Ryan Brown

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