Orpheus & Eurydice - Christoph Willibald Gluck - English National Opera
I went to the Coliseum on
25 September 2001 to see the ENO in
Gluck's Orpheus & Eurydice, conducted
by Harry Legge. The work was first
performed in 1762 in Vienna. The original
text is by Ranieri Calzabigi, but
has been translated to English by
Ann Ridler. Twelve years later, Gluck
revised the work for a production
in French at the Paris Opera, where
it was an enormous success.
Act 1, Scene 1: A Grove by Eurydice's
Tomb:Eurydice has died and Orpheus
blames the gods for their severity.
The mourners depart and the bereaved
Orpheus (a musician) calls to his
wife, but only his echo answers him.
He can take no more and his grief
gives way to anger. He resolves to
journey to the Underworld and reclaim
Eurydice from the dead.
Scene 2: Amor appears:Orpheus has
permission to enter the forbidden
region of the dead. Eros the God of
Love brings a message from Zeus saying
that if he can placate the inhabitants
(the Furies) with his singing, that
Eurydice and he will be reunited.
However, a condition is imposed: Orpheus
must not look at his wife until they
have crossed the River Styx, otherwise
she will be lost to forever. Moreover,
he must not tell her of this prohibition.
Orpheus foresees Eurydice's distress
at his behaviour at their reunion.
Act 2, Scene 1: Entrance to the Underworld:
Orpheus stands on the forbidding threshold
of the Underworld as the Furies try
to bar his way, but his sublime singing
is soothing to the dispossessed beings.
Eventually, they allow him to continue
Scene 2: Pastoral Landscape in Elysian
Fields: Orpheus marvels at the radiance
of the other world's calm surroundings.
Eurydice is restored to him by the
blessed spirits and he is careful
not to look at her and together they
journey back to the land of the living.
Act III, Scene 1: A gloomy mountain
with a cave: Orpheus urges Eurydice
to hurry and follow him. She can not
comprehend his unusual and impatient
behaviour and doubts his love. She
rebukes him for his apparent infidelity.
Eurydice is close to fainting; Orpheus
succumbs at last to look at her and
she immediately dies in his arms.
He inveighs against such cruelty and
laments once again the death of his
beloved wife. Inconsolable at his
unrecoverable loss, he prepares to
kill himself. He sings the opera's
most famous aria: "Che faro senza
Eurydice?" ("what is life
without you"). He is interrupted
by Amor who declares that Orpheus
has given enough proof of his fidelity
and the Eurydice will be restored
to life immediately.
Scene 2: Orpheus, Eurydice and Amor
celebrate, along with their companions
and followers, the couple's return.
Eros blesses them at the altar and
the choir sings the praises of the
God of Love, in the Temple of Eros.