Thursday, February 18, 2016

Love in Gluck's Orfeo and Euridice

The love story of Orfeo and Euridice is one that has inspired composers for centuries. You may be familiar with Monteverdi’s take on the tale, or perhaps Rossi? My personal favorite is one by Christoph Willibald Gluck. Written in 1762, Gluck’s version of Orfeo is in the style of reform opera—a movement that encouraged the music to serve the text, moving the plot forward by writing less contrast between recitatives and arias and including less opportunity for soloists to show off. He wrote the opera alongside poet Raniero de Calzabigi.

Are you familiar with the tale of Orfeo and Euridice? Gluck’s setting tells of Orfeo’s beloved Euridice who dies of a snake bite. When Orfeo hears the news, he is devastated and gets permission from the gods to travel to the underworld to retrieve his bride. He is permitted to embark on this journey under the condition that, once there, he must not look at Euridice as she follows him back to Earth. If he disobeys this command, he will lose his lover forever.

After arriving in the underworld, Euridice comes to Orfeo. When she notices that he will not look at her, she fears he no longer loves her. Overcome with grief, Orfeo turns toward her in order to express his passion and immediately, she is taken from him. In despair, Orfeo decides to take his own life, unable to live without Euridice. Realizing that Orfeo’s love is genuine, the god Amor decides to allow Euridice to return to Earth with Orfeo.

Below you can listen to the Dance of the Furies from Act II of Orfeo and Euridice. Note how Gluck uses string tremolos, horns, trombones to depict the Furies in the underworld while Orfeo is represented by a harp and plucked strings, in reflection of the lyre he carries.

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