Thursday, 3 July 2014

A terrific production of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice from the baroque theatre of Český Krumlov Castle on a new DVD from Arthaus Musik , beautifully sung by Bejun Mehta, Eva Liebau and Regula Mühlemann with Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 conducted by Václav Luks

Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714-1787), is based on the  myth of Orpheus set to a libretto by the Italian poet Ranieri de' Calzabigi (1714-1795), was first performed in Vienna on 5 October 1762.

It tells the story of Orfeo who grieves before Euridice’s tomb, cursing the gods for having taken her away and resolves to descend to Hades, braving the Furies to find her. Amore, the god of love, announces that the gods, moved by Orfeo’s despair, will allow him to reclaim Euridice from Hades on condition that he doesn’t look at her until they have returned to the upper world.

At the entrance to the underworld, Orfeo begs the Furies to take pity on his tears and, after first refusing, they respond to his entreaties and allow him to enter Hades. Orfeo finds Euridice and urges her to hurry with him back to the upper world, but unable to resist her anguished pleas, Orfeo defies the gods and turns to embrace Euridice. She breathes a farewell and dies.

Overcome with grief Orfeo resolves to join Euridice in death. Amore reappears, announcing that Orfeo has passed the tests of faith and constancy. She restores Euridice to life and the happy couple returns to the upper world, but Orfeo at last realises that it is an illusion and walks away alone.

Arthaus Musik http://arthaus-musik.com have recently released a new DVD of Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice directed by Ondřej Havelka www.ondrejhavelka.com

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Collegium 1704 and Collegium Vocale 1704 are conducted by Václav Luks www.collegium1704.com with Bejun Mehta http://bejunmehta.com as Orfeo, Eva Liebau www.hainzl-delage-artists-management.com/en/artist/eva-liebau/biography  as Euridice and Regula Mühlemann www.regulamuehlemann.com as Amore.

Filmed at the rarely used baroque theatre of Český Krumlov Castle, Czech Republic www.zamek-ceskykrumlov.eu , director Ondřej Havelka captures much more than a stage performance, combining period details with a modern psychological interpretation using a cinematic approach.

The film opens with Orfeo filmed in a room of the castle, picking up his lyre and playing, whereupon we are led directly into the Overtura. Here the period band, in 18th century costume, is seen playing in the old theatre of the castle. The camera takes us between the theatre and the room where Orfeo is waiting.  

Act 1 Scene I takes us onto the stage of the theatre where Orfeo is mourning over the dead body of Euridice. Bejun Mehta is an excellent Orfeo with his fine countertenor voice with rich lower timbres and delivering some fine, emotional acting.

The stage sets by Zdenĕk Flemming are beautifully done in what appears to me to be authentic 18th century style. The dance sequences are beautifully done. As this scene continues the camera begins to glide around the stage in circles giving more than a theatre audience would see.  The use of lighting is very effective, subtly washing changes of colour over Euridice’s body whilst Orfeo laments. The costumes by Jana Zbořilová are in the style of ancient Greece except for Orfeo who has a simple but rather 18th century style costume.

Soprano, Regula Mühlemann as Amore makes her appearance in Scene II as she descends on a wooden cloud. This is a really a lovely touch. She has an excellent voice and brings much cheeky fun to her role before Orfeo, with her permission, descends into the underworld via a trapdoor in the stage accompanied by the sound of thunder.

Act 2 Scene I finds the hero in the bowels of Český Krumlov Castle with Collegium 1704 providing a beautiful sounding orchestral Maestoso. When the Furies that guard the underworld appear they create a real impact in their terrific costumes. Indeed, right through this scene the chorus deserve the upmost praise. Bejun Mehta’s Orfeo shows real emotion as he begs for pity in the aria ‘Deh, placatevi con me…’ (Be merciful to me, ye Furies)

With Scene II we are in the Elysium Fields, the Abode of the Blessed Heroes where we have a classic Greek scene with gentle dancing and a lovely orchestral accompaniment from Collegium 1704, so sensitive and affecting.

Orfeo is superb when he sings ‘Che puro ciel’ (That pure heaven) and there is another fine contribution from the chorus. Euridice pops up from under the stage covered in veils which are untwined to reveal her.

Act III Scene I takes us under the castle as Orfeo and Euridice try to leave the underworld as Orfeo sings ‘Vieni, segui i miei passi’ (Come, follow my steps). Soprano, Eva Liebau as Euridice is also well cast with a beautifully, musical voice that combines so well with Bejun Mehta’s countertenor voice. Scene 1 continues to take the action through other parts of the castle with some excellent camera work and the clever use of shadows as the couple appear to ‘touch’ each other.

Eva Liebau shows herself to be a fine operatic actor with some great singing in ‘Che fiero momento, (What a proud moment). After Orfeo’s fateful look at Euridice, she dies ‘Ahimè! dove trascorso?’ (Alas! What have I done?)

Orfeo’s aria, ‘Che farò senza Euridice’ (What shall I do without Euridice) is full of pathos and brilliantly sung by Mehta with such vocal control.  

In Scene II, Amore appears and, using the point of her arrow, cuts the rope that the despairing Orfeo is going to use to kill himself.  Euridice is returned to life.

Scene III returns us to the theatre or, perhaps, the real world as Orfeo, Euridice, Amore and the chorus rejoice singing ‘Trionfi Amore’ (Love Triumphs).

But does it? In a twist, Orfeo is seen looking on at the back of the theatre. But to find out more you will have to watch this stunning new DVD.  

This is a terrific production, imaginative, beautifully sung and acted with excellent camera work and lovely sets and costumes. It has a special feel.

The picture quality is excellent as is the sound when played through an amplifier and decent speakers.

Sung in Italian, there are subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish and Korean. The sound formats are PCM Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.0. The DVD booklet would help newcomers if they included a brief synopsis though this is easily obtainable on line.

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