Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice"

Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice"

Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck (1714-1787) was a Bohemian opera composer who was born in what is now Bavaria. He is known for the fusion of Italian, French and Austrian music, as well as his early compositions for the Hapsburg court. For his time, he was something of a revolutionary, advocating a reform of opera in Austria, as well as making significant advancements in opera composition in Paris. He left Paris after the failure of his opera Echo et Narcisse, living once again in Vienna until his death.

His most well-received and famous opera was Orfeo ed Euridice, which was first performed in Vienna in 1762. The opera is based on the mythological story of Orpheus, the prophet in Greek religion. Orfeo ed Euridice is one of the first of his revolutionary operas that were created based on the idea of “noble simplicity,” or the departure from traditional opera, which included complicated plots and music, returning instead to simplicity of music and plot.

 

Listen to Act II, Scene One here.

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This chorus is very intense and throughout the early sections, it feels like it is building up to something big. This chorus is a little bit like concerto grosso because there are two orchestras and a chorus. The sixteenth notes in the Coro section in contrast to the isorthythmic and rhythmically simple vocal part is very dramatic. The contrast between one of the orchestra and the chorus is often shocking. For example, the contrast between measure 23 and 24 is huge and abrupt from a unison orchestra with a pretty harp to an intense orchestra and a unison note in the vocal part. The orchestra part often comes in with the choral part to build intensity and accent certain words. For example in the second coro section, in starting in measure 64, the bass has four grace notes and then a quarter note in time with the isorhythmic vocal part. This highlights those words, which mean “frightened by,” and “the shrieks” and build up the intensity. At the ballo section, the repeated quarter notes in every instrumental parts, building intensity as more and more parts come together, build the anticipation of Orfeo’s plea to the Furies for Euridice. Orfeo’s beautiful, melodic lyric lines make the simple unison “No!” by the Furies that much more shocking and unexpected.

 

What do you think of Orfeo ed Euridice? Are you a fan of Gluck?