Orfeo E Eurydice
In three acts by GLUCK.
Text by RANIERO DI CALZABIGI.
This opera is the oldest of all we possess in our repertoire. Gluck
had already written more than forty operas, of which we do not even
know the names now, when he composed his Orfeo, breaking with the old
Italian traditions and showing a new and more natural taste. All the
charm of Italian melody is still to be found in this composition, but
it is blent with real feeling, united to great strength of expression
and its value is enhanced by a total absence of all those superfluous
warbles and artificial ornaments, which filled the Italian operas of
that time. The libretto, taken from the old and beautiful Greek
tragedy, is as effective as the music.
Orpheus, the celebrated Greek musician and singer has lost his wife
Eurydice. His mournful songs fill the groves where he laments, and
with them he touches the hearts not only of his friends but of the
gods. On his wife's grave Amor appears to him, and bids him descend
into Hades, where he is to move the Furies and the Elysian shadows with
his sweet melodies, and win back from them his lost wife.
He is to recover her on a condition, which is, that he never casts a
look on her on their return to earth, for if he fail in this, Eurydice
will be for ever lost to him.
Taking his lyre and casque Orpheus promises obedience and with renewed
hope sallies forth on his mission. The second act represents the gates
of Erebus, from which flames arise. Orpheus is surrounded by furies
and demons, who try to frighten him; but he, nothing daunted, mollifies
them by his sweet strains, and they set free the passage to Elysium,
where Orpheus has to win the happy shadows. He beholds Eurydice among
them, veiled, the happy shadows readily surrender her to him, escorting
the pair to the gates of their happy vale.
The third act beholds the spouses on their way back to earth. Orpheus
holds Eurydice by the hand, drawing the reluctant wife on, but without
raising his eyes to her face, on and on through the winding and obscure
paths, which lead out of the infernal regions. Notwithstanding his
protestations of love and his urgent demands to her to follow
him, Eurydice never ceases to implore him to cast a single look on her,
threatening him with her death, should he not fulfil her wish.
Orpheus, forbidden to tell her the reason of his strange behaviour,
long remains deaf to her cruel complaints, but at last he yields, and
looks back, only to see her expire under his gaze. Overwhelmed by
grief and despair Orpheus draws his sword to destroy himself, when Amor
appears, and stays the fatal stroke.
In pity for Orpheus' love and constancy he reanimates Eurydice
(contrary however to the letter of the Greek tragedy) and the act
closes with a beautiful chorus sung in Amor's praise.