The Greek legend of Orpheus has captured the imaginations of many creative artists over the centuries. In this recording, Christoph Willibald Gluck transforms the original Italian opera into a refined French version. Magda... more »lena Kozena brings expressiveness, exceptional virtuosity and a rare emotion to the role of Orphee. Madeline Bender as Eurydice is possessed of a touching grace and beauty while Patricia Petibon is deliciously mischievous as Amour. John Eliot Gardiner conducts this production staged by avant director Robert Wilson (Einstein on the Beach).« less
Noam Eitan | Brooklyn, NY United States | 08/07/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Gluck wrote an Italian version of "Orfeo" in 1762 for Vienna. In 1774 he re-wrote a French version for Paris, with ballets and an extended role for Orphée. Gardiner chose a French version Berlioz wrote in 1859 for the great mezzo Pauline Viardot. This "Orphée et Eurydice" opened in the renovated Châtelet together with "Alceste", also availavable on DVD. Both were recorded in October 1999 and share similar aesthetics."Alceste" too has an early Italian and a later Berlioz version. For "Alceste" Gardiner constructed a French hybrid that incorporates elements of the two. For example, the famous aria "divinités du Styx" has a French translation of the Italian version: "ombres, larves." Why? Ask Gardiner. He also transposed the "Alceste" score downward. On both DVD's, his approach is fresh, idiomatic and unforced. His fast tempi balance the dreamy pace of action on the stage. He loves sprightly rhythms and now and then an abrupt chord.The still very young Czech mezzo Magdalena Ko?ená (Orphée) has a pleasant voice of exceptional sheen and beauty, a good command of the coloratura with delicious lightness, agility and clear diction. However, she lacks the necessary depth. The demands of the role surpass her experience, evidenced by a deficiency in the lower registers that sometimes breaks her musical line. These problems in the passaggio are particularly evident in the challenging "Amour vient rendre à mon âme" with its tessitura spread over three registers (27:00, in the trills), added by Berlioz especially for Viardot. American soprano, Madeline Bender (Eurydice), dressed in a virginal white gown, has a smooth, crystal tone. French soprano, Patricia Petibon is a delightful Amour. All three are quite ravishing. Paradoxically, the exquisite Ko?ená suffers from ugly makeup that is supposed to give her a certain masculine hue. Robert Wilson, an American originally from Texas, active mostly in European opera houses, directs both productions. Under his direction the singers move in a highly stylized and ritualistic choreography inspired by the Japanese Nôh theatre tradition. A section of the French public booed him loudly. This was echoed by French critics. They panned his approach and made vaguely suspicious references to his Texan origins. English and German critics liked and defended him from this lukewarm reception.Wilson is known as a minimalist. He presents the action as a series of tableaux that flow naturally from one to the other. Orphée and his spouse move about the stage looking something like ancient Egyptian bas-reliefs. The famous "Ballet des Ombres Heureuses" and "Danse des Furies" are tableaux devoid of dancers, with a few shifting shadows of the chorus in the background, plus a few abrupt lighting changes. Both the "Alceste" and the "Orphée" share a projected cube that floats near, approaches and departs again. I find it amazing how communicative this device is, despite its abstractness. It is evocative of the power of fate, descending arbitrarily from the air to threaten the loving pairs in the two works. The Ancient Greeks' concept of fate is not immediately accessible to the modern mind. Yet, Wilson dramatizes it in a visceral way that is completely modern. He is truly a genius of the 21st Century. Unlike other productions, ravaged by the excesses of ignorant and megalomaniac directors, espousing post-modernism, minimalism, or any other faddish -ism, this unique collaboration between Gardiner and Wilson produces a consistent musical-dramatic unit.Despite this, I must admit that initially both productions struck me as detached, contrived, devoid of rubato and under-whelming. I rarely bother to listen to anything written before 1812, being heavily invested in the romantic and post romantic repertoire. It is only on repeat viewing that I was able to appreciate the wonders of these productions. If you approach them in a fairly suggestible mood, the experience can be (and has been) described as "hypnotic." From the moment the blue square enlarges to encompass the action on stage you enter an enchanted world. The set, merely a rock and a few poplar trees in silhouette, is bathed in the same cerulean color as Orphée's costume. This ever present blue is reminiscent of the azure of the endless heavens or that of the Aegean Sea, pristine in its primordial beauty. I couldn't tear myself from the screen. The characters too, seemed to be hypnotized, or even bewitched. Wilson's approach has given rise to various interpretations. I read of one viewer who felt that the characters moved slowly and artificially as if their movements were controlled by the gods. Only the god Amour has the freedom to move with spontaneity. Another thought that the unisex costuming and makeup emphasized the femaleness of Ko?ená and Petibon, which gave the tale an intriguing Saphic slant. For me, the action took place in an arctic dream world, cast in an eerie light, inhabited by almost frozen figures residing on the edge of death. Where these productions take you is highly personal. It has been an insidiously enticing operatic experience for me. Wilson dissolves your defenses by seduction rather than by force.Many operatic productions lose their power in the transition from the stage to the small screen. These two works seem perfect for television because the heightened artificiality, often an unwanted effect, is at the core of the stylistic language here. The intensity of the experience is ironically heightened in this case by the intimacy that this medium provides. Another advantage of the DVD is that the lack of projection of the voices, always a problem with Châtelet acoustics, is easily solved here. Like all the other Châtelet DVD's, these two have an almost perfect picture quality. As a final note, I am curious to see Wilson apply his approach to Wagner's ring. He may be able to make dramatic sense of its warring gods, without reducing them into "symbols" of one kind or another."
ROBERT WILSON'S "ORPHEUS..."
MOVIE MAVEN | New York, NY USA | 09/15/2002
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Gluck's ORPHEUS & EURIDICE is one of my favorite operas. Strangely enough I have seen several different productions. I say, "strangely" since it is rarely produced in New York, but I have seen it in a gorgeous, traditional production at the Metropolitan Opera House starring the incomparable Marilyn Horne and in a concert version at Tanglewood with the same star. I have also seen a post-modern production at the New York City Opera which made little sense to me and in two interesting productions outside of New York City.Robert Wilson is a director I admire greatly and this production is gorgeous: the costumes, the choreography, the stark settings and especially the lighting are all of a piece as if done by one person. The formal structure of the opera is stressed with Wilson's use of simple, symbolic gestures, mask-like make-up, few props and a bold use of color. The story is the mythic one of Orpheus who, in mourning for his wife, Euridice, decides to venture to Hades in order to return her to Earth. After various struggles, he does so with the great aid of the goddess, Amore.There are only three principal roles in the opera, all sung by women and this cast is very good, if not up to the likes of Horne or in another fine recording, Anne Sofie von Otter, or in yet a third, Rise Stevens. In fact, there are times, especially in Act 1, when the mezzo, Magdalena Kozena, as 'Orpheus' frequently sings off pitch. Patricia Petibon does better as the goddess and Madeline Bender is fine as 'Euridice.'
Sir John Eliot Gardiner, his orchestra the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique, and the Monteverdi Choir are all superb."
Musically fine, but disappointing visually
T. Ferry | Victoria, British Columbia Canada | 03/31/2004
(2 out of 5 stars)
"Allegedly directed for television, this production is disappointing because of its terrible lighting and production values. To make it interesting and appealing to watch would require more than the pale blue lighting that pervades throughout. Even if there were some colour in the costumes, sets or faces, it wouldn't show up because of the poor lighting. The staging is overly stylized as well, setting a new low standard. The same forces issued a production of Alceste which was somewhat better. Musically and aurally the performance is very good indeed. The cast is great. But I wanted something that was also satisfying to watch. I already have a terrific CD of this opera. It might have looked fine on stage, but as a DVD on my widescreen HD set it is a big mistake. I will not purchase another opera on DVD from these producers unless they pay more attention to the visual qualities."
You'll be stunned or you'll hate it, no middle terms
Plaza Marcelino | Caracas Venezuela | 01/09/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This production of Gluck's Paris version of this milestone in the genre's history (1774, but in Berlioz's edition of almost a century later), taped live at the Chatelet Theatre in Paris some five years ago, is a good example of today's opera world. Singers are handsome and young, so much so that they could easily pass for fashion models, and their voices are light and agile . The production, although devised by Texan Robert Wilson, is typical of the other side of the Atlantic, one that perhaps if it crossed the ocean to the US would be rather frowned upon by the more traditional audiences one is likely to find over there and banalised as "eurotrashy". Wilson takes to have his singers (soloists of choir) to move statue-like and in poses that recall frescoes from the Micenian period of ancient Greece, sometimes even walking backwards, which may not be everybody's cup of tea; Frida Parmeggiani's wardrobe won't help much either, sometimes you may think she mistook Calzabaggi's idealised ancient Greece for Schikaneder's idea of ancient Egypt as some of the clothing, especially that worn by the choir, seems taken out from a performance of "The Magic Flute". So whether you'll visually like or dislike this performance will greatly depend on your openness to this kind of innovating staging propositions. I myself enjoyed throughout although I'd admit the statue-like poses and turns, especially on the part of Kozena's, could become tiresome after repeated viewing.
The trio of female principals is outstanding. Kozena's career has skyrocketed since her irruption in the opera scene in the middle of last decade. Her youth apart, she is too beautiful a woman to assume a credible impersonation of a male character (remember, Gluck wrote the Orfeo part for a male castrato voice, and since the demise of that barbaric practice it has been variously been taken up by both male and female singers, countertenors or mezzosopranos and contraltos); her make-up and costume don't help either, as she's dressed in a (female?) gown and strikingly made-up. But she sings so good, she projects herself so well from the stage (and if you'been to the Chatelet you'll know it's no small place) and manages her coloraturas and fiorituras so splendidly that you adjust promptly (one has but to remember in turn how in past decades those huge singers with thicker voices who tackled the part had quite a hard time to master them!). Young Patricia Petibon is a darling of french audiences, an emerging singer when the performance was staged but an established one in her own right nowadays, presenting an enchanting Amour; Mahnattan School of Music graduate Madeline Bender is gorgeus to look at and takes full advantage of how the lyrical character of Euridice's part does suit her voice.
A chapter apart deserve Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his outstanding Orchestre Revolutionaire & Romantique. They project Gluck's score with a vitality and energy that push it forward in time to Mozartian characteristics (and mind that Gluck was some 40 years Mozart's senior), in sharp opposition to a way of playing this music that is all too common and which renders it almost bland. In Sir John's hands, we face a vigour, a vehemence and brilliance that evidence themselves from the Overture's very first notes and which won't give in until the last note, some one and a half hours later.
So, what you have here is a remarkable rendition of this opera. Whether you love or hate it will greatly depend on your attitude towards today's importance given to stage directors, exagerated and irrelevant in the opinion of many, a brilliant turn of events in the eyes of others, but a fact you have to live with. I'd give the dvd 5 stars outright but settled on 4 on account of this, as the appeal of the presentation will not be universal. Sound and image are very good but, as is common with Image Entertainment's US repackagings, there is no additional material."
Waste of Good Music
G. Lim | 04/22/2008
(1 out of 5 stars)
"What a waste of beautiful music by Gluck. What's all that stilted and hand gestures all about? If I wanted to see a Chinese Peking Opera, I would have gone to one. This is a French Opera, no amount of "modern" production can make it "better". Save your money and get the Australian Opera production with the same title. It's modern and beautifully sung and staged."