The issue is which version to chose. There are two main versions: a 1762 Orfeo e Euridice
which had its debut in Vienna and has a libretto in Italian by the well known poet Ranieri de' Calzabigi; and a 1774 Orphée et
Eurydice, in French, adapted by the composer and by the young French poet Pierre-Louis Moline, to better suit the Parisian taste, albeit keeping the fundamentals of the 'reform'. To make
things more complicated, in the nineteenth century, Orphée et Eurydice was the only often-performed seventeenth century opera. This was not the 1774 version but a new edition for large orchestra, adapted by Hector Berlioz. Finally, when Ricordi published the 'definitive' version in 1889, the product was an
interpolation of Berlioz's work with Gluck's 1762 and 1774 versions and the addition of arias from yet other operas of the Bohemian composer. A real mess! Only
recently were critical editions produced. Yet the Gluck-Berlioz Orphée et Eurydice
was staged in Marseilles a few months ago in a production which will soon reach Palermo. In practice, the French 1774 version of the Gluck-Berlioz
product are performed in theatres more often than the original 1762 version — which is, however, very frequently presented in concert versions. The later Orphée
et Eurydice is somewhat longer than Orfeo e Euridice
(only eighty minutes); consequently, rightly or wrongly, it is deemed
more appropriate to fill an evening.
As a part of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino festival, the original Orfeo
e Euridice was staged in the three-hundred-and-fifty year old
Teatro La Pergola; after being remodeled several times, the theatre now
has nearly nine hundred seats and is better suited than 1,800 seat Teatro
Comunale for operas requiring smaller forces. As in 1762, the three acts
were performed without intermission, which made the production both
simple and rigorous. I saw and heard the production on its opening night, 8 June 2014.
The basic concept of Denis Krief (stage director but also responsible for sets, costumes and lighting) is that Orfeo
e Euridice is a universal and very actual tale of conjugal love and total mutual trust. Both the poet and his wife love each other but do not reach total mutual trust. Thus, they
are punished. But their sorrow (especially his sorrow) is so deep and so
sincere that all the populace is asking for mercy. Thus, Almighty
obliges: there is a happy ending — the conclusion is not entirely happy in the 1774 French version. Very careful acting by the three singers provides for considerable emotion.
The stage set is a series of panels with
projections (by Nicola Calocero); the only prop is an eighteenth century sofa. We feel that we are in modern times not solely because of the elegant and essential attire of the two young protagonists but because the afterworld is presented as a discotheque with dancing crowd, reached through a highway tunnel. Finally, also the ballet
is choreographed (by Cristina Rizzo) in a modern way, albeit on an
eighteenth centuryscore. The small ensemble has a few periodinstruments (harpsichord, baroqueharp), and the conductor, Federico Maria Sardelli, is a specialist in this repertory.
The protagonist is alto Anna Bonitatibus — the role was originally written for a castrato. She is simply superb from her first ariaChiamo il mio ben così to her long lamentation Che
faro senza Euridice through the duet with Euridice, Vieni
appaga il tuo consorte. The spouse is the French soprano Hélène Guilmette, singing to a high standard albeit some flaws in her aria Che
fiero momento. The god Love is Silvia Frigato, in boy's attire. The quite effective Maggio Musicale Chorus is 'the people', ie friends of the couple and general populace witnessing their story. Six
dancers complete the company.
The audience applauded warmly, even though comments in the foyer seem to
suggest that some would have preferred a more traditional staging. In my opinion, this production provided evidence that Orfeo e Euridice is
far superior to Orphée
et Eurydice and all later mismatches, and that opera managers
should compete for Denis Krief's elegant yet inexpensive productions.