100 bästa operorna – 44 Orfeo ed Euridice av Gluck

28 september 2010

44 -Orfeo ed Euridice by Christoph Willibald Gluck

Orfeo ed Euridice (French version: Orphée et Eurydice; English translation: Orpheus and Eurydice) is an opera composed by Christoph Willibald Gluck based on the myth of Orpheus, set to a libretto by Ranieri de’ Calzabigi.


Act 1

A chorus of nymphs and shepherds join Orfeo around the tomb of his wife Euridice in a solemn chorus of mourning; Orfeo is only able to utter Euridice’s name. Orfeo sends the others away and sings of his grief. Amore (Cupid) appears, telling Orfeo that he may go to the Underworld and return with his wife on the condition that he not look at her until they are back on earth. As encouragement, Amore informs Orfeo that his present suffering shall be short-lived. Orfeo resolves to take on the quest.

Act 2

In a rocky landscape, the Furies refuse to admit Orfeo to the Underworld, and sing of Cerberus, its canine guardian. When Orfeo, accompanied by his lyre (represented in the opera by a harp), begs for pity he is at first interrupted by cries of ”No!” from the Furies, but they are eventually softened by the sweetness of his singing in the arias and let him in.

The second scene opens in Elysium with the four-movement ”Dance of the Blessed Spirits” (with a prominent part for solo flute. This is followed by a solo which celebrates happiness in eternal bliss, sung by either an unnamed Spirit or Euridice, and repeated by the chorus. Orfeo arrives and marvels at the purity of the air in an arioso. But he finds no solace in the beauty of the surroundings, for Euridice is not yet with him. He implores the spirits to bring her to him, which they do.

Act 3

On the way out of Hades, Euridice is delighted to be returning to earth, but Orfeo, remembering the condition related by Amore in Act I, lets go of her hand and refuses to look at her, does not explain anything to her. She does not understand his action and reproaches him, but he must suffer in silence. Euridice takes this to be a sign that he no longer loves her, and refuses to continue, concluding that death would be preferable. She sings of her grief at Orfeo’s supposed infidelity. Unable to take any more, Orfeo turns and looks at Euridice; again, she dies. Orfeo sings of his grief.

Orfeo decides he will kill himself to join Euridice in Hades, but Amore returns to stop him. In reward for Orfeo’s continued love, Amore returns Euridice to life, and she and Orfeo are reunited. After a four-movement ballet, all sing in praise of Amore.

Orfeo – castrato/mezzo-soprano/counter tenor
Euridice – Soprano
Amore – Soprano


Gluck basically reinvented the opera in the middle of the 18th century. Up until this opera the opera seria had basically petrified into a formualic and pretty boring thing. With Orfeo ed Euridice Gluck tried to make the drama once more the important part of the opera, instead of the singers. His work with tying everything together without clear breaks between arias and recitatives points the way towards the German opera, and especially Wagner. Now to be honest though many consider Gluck’s later opera Iphigénie en Tauride to be a better opera, but I guess Orfeo is being helped by having a musical piece that is more well known. I’m thinking about the Dance of the Blessed Spirits]. Otherwise one of the more famous arias is Orfeo’s Che faro senza Euridice.

I also must say that I think Euridice is stupid that thinks that Orfeo doesn’t love her anymore, when he’s just walked to Hades to get her back to earth.