As part of the Opera Explained series, experienced radio broadcaster and voice talent David Timson delivers a Thomson Smillie lecture on Chrisoph Willibald Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice. Smillie discusses the enduring legend of Orpheus, the gifted musician who travels to the underworld to bring back his lost love, popular fodder for art and opera since Jacopo Peri’s Euridice, one of the first operas ever written. Gluck’s opera is entwined with the history of castrati, Italian and French opera, and the stylistic reforms of 18th-century Vienna and Paris where he lived and worked. Timson brings an enthusiasm and articulation that calmly engages in a style that reflect the beautiful operatic sound clips that supplement the lecture.
Based on the simple yet deeply moving legendary tale of Orpheus, who loses his beloved wife to death but is able to restore her through the power of his music, Orfeo ed Euridice is among the earliest operas to hold a secure place in the repertory. Gluck lavishes a wealth of beautiful melody on this tale, whose appeal to composers is obvious; yet the abiding strength lies in the power and majesty of his inspiration, whether in the solos, the choruses, or the ballet music - which is surely the finest written for any opera.
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The opening includes a brief discussion of the ancient mythic inspiration for the story, the role of castrati in performances of the time, the vexed questions surrounding "which version," and the desire shared by Gluck and his librettist de'Calzabigi to reform opera seria forever. Then we "plunge straightaway into the burnished splendor of the Baroque."
From the opening scenes of the poet-singer Orfeo mourning at Euridice's grave to the triumphant finale celebrating the glory of love, the opera is nothing less than entrancing. Even if you have no interest in opera and know nothing of the plot, if you are a lover of Baroque music, Orfeo ed Euridice is a must-listen. If you do love opera, you'll marvel at Gluck's ability to express himself with perfect economy, brilliant contrast, emotional intensity, and exquisite orchestration.
As always, much appreciation for David Timson whose narrations are as beautiful as music to my ears.
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