'Orphee Et Eurydice' is my personal favourite of Gluck's operas, with 'Iphigenie en Tauride' being a close second. It contains some of his most glorious music, and it has the most moving and least static of any of the stories for his operas.
This Robert Wilson-directed production is one of four productions available on DVD (that this reviewer has seen that is). The Janet Baker and Opera Australia performances are superior performances, but this is preferable to the musically outstanding but visually distasteful 1991 Johann Kowalski production.
In terms of visuals and staging, this production evoked mixed reactions from me. The production looks good on DVD, it's sympathetically video-directed, which captures the action without being too busy or stillborn, the picture quality is clear and sharp and never blurred or fuzzy and the sound has resonance. The set is sparse but not in a cheap way, it's quite effective and made more interesting by the incredibly striking use of blue lighting (very little the 1999 production of 'Alceste'), though a little more variety in colour would have been more welcome.
Staging from Robert Wilson (a quite controversial stage director, who's done some stuff that came off well like this and the 'Alceste' but also stuff that didn't so much, was mixed on his 'Pelleas Et Melisande' and was underwhelmed by his 'Aida'), taking a sombre and minimalist approach (again like the 'Alceste'), has on the most part a good deal of intensity and is very moving, making good if not entirely successful use of the "less is more" approach. Sometimes though it is very static, and the slow, artificial, jagged, over-stylised and sometimes aimless choreographed movements did come over a little weirdly and could have been employed less.
Musically, the production is mostly wonderful. The orchestra play beautifully and give the music a vitality and an intimacy, while the chorus make much of little and sing with good balance and lovely tone and Sir John Elliot Gardiner conducts with buoyancy and sympathy for the drama. The only disappointment was towards the end, with some of the most beautiful music of any of Gluck's operas being cut.
In a three-principal show, all three come over well and at their best absolutely splendidly. Magdalena Kozena (looking a little too beautiful and feminine to convince in a male role, which even some ugly make-up cannot hide) struggles with her challenging Act 1 aria "Amour Vient Rendre à Mon Ame", which sees some pitching issues and unevenness between registers, but she has an exceptionally beautiful and agile voice, that is never too heavy or light, which she couples with silky phrasing, varied musicality and clear diction. She is a poignant actress, and acts with expressiveness and intensity when she isn't being limited by her stage direction.
As Eurydice, looking radiant in her white gown, is similarly moving and sings with a crystalline and gleaming tone. Patricia Petibon fares best as a truly delightful Amour, she sings characterfully, charmingly and with beauty and intensity. Of the three, she is the most animated and colourfully characterised, being the only one to be allowed spontaneity in her stage direction.
In summary, a minimalist production of 'Orphee Et Eurydice' that has its drawbacks and reservations but works quite well more than it doesn't. 7/10 Bethany Cox
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