Orphée et Eurydice Review
This recording of Gluck’s opera Orphée et Eurydice in French is the version arranged by Hector Berlioz, using the best elements from both Gluck’s original Italian opera Orfeo ed Euridice, and Gluck’s own French version. It was recorded at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris in October 1999.
The plot of the opera itself is not a complex one. After the opera’s Overture we are plunged into the mourning of the death of Eurydice (a beautiful, brooding First Act). Cupid then appears to tell Orpheus that the Gods have heard his mourning and have been so moved that they will allow him to descent into Hades to return with his beloved, warning him that Eurydice will turn to stone should he look at her before she has been taken recovered. The opera takes the unusual twist at the end of departing from the traditional Greek legend and providing us with a happy ending after the inevitable occurs. Not a difficult opera to follow if you can get used to the idea of a woman singing the male (alto castrate) role of Orpheus.
The music itself then, under the direction of Sir John Eliot Gardiner, is wonderful. Gluck eschews the traditional format of opera aria and relies on declarative and very musical recitative to carry the plot and the emotions of the characters. This places great demands on the performers, and the principals here (Magdalena Kozena as Orpheus and Madeline Bender as Eurydice) are superb in delivering the roles. The stage direction by the American avant-garde theatre and opera director, Robert Wilson is minimalist and very effective and quite appropiate for the opera. The direction for the screen is excellent and shows the sets, lighting and performers to good advantage.
The DVD is encoded for regions 2 and 5. The image and sound are astonishingly good. The picture is an anamorphic 16:9 transfer of stunning clarity, especially considering the prevalent dark blues and pure blacks with contrasting bright spotlights on the performers. This comes across like a direct digital broadcast. You are not going to see any spots, scratches or artifacts of any kind.
The crystal clear sound is advertised as Dolby Digital 5.1, but my player reports a Dolby Digital 5.0 with no LFE (which should not really be necessary for a music performance in any case). The surround mix is only occassionally effective, notably during chorus scenes – at other times you can hear the coughs and splutters of the audience all around you. This is not particularly distracting. I preferred the DD 5.0 mix for the enveloping feel of a live performance hall although the PCM stereo track available has obviously superior sound quality.
Subtitles are provided and you can choose between the English translation or the original French libretto. There are no other extras included on the disk, so althought I can’t give the DVD any rating for extras I don’t consider this disappointing. You have all the extra information you need about the opera in the accompaning booklet, rather like an opera programme.
After the early days of 4:3 transfers from video of classical performances, Arthaus are increasingly putting out superb quality, widescreen, surround sound classical and opera DVDs. The format is ideal for classical music and other DVDs in their catalogue take advantage of other features like alternative angles and even composer commentary. If you have any interest in exploring opera or classical music on DVD, Orphée Et Eurydice would be an excellent introduction. Alternatively Arthaus have a couple of DVD Samplers – The Arthaus Musik DVD Video Sampler, The Arthaus Musik DVD Video Sampler II, which can be picked up quite cheaply, for another dimension of what DVD can provide.