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In Review > International

Orphée et Eurydice 

PARIS
Opéra Comique
10/12/18

In Review Paris Orphee hdl 119
Marianne Crebassa and Hélène Guilmette, Orphée and Eurydice in Paris
© Pierre Grosbois

POSSIBLY IN ANTICIPATION of next year’s “Année Berlioz,” which will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the composer’s death, the Opéra Comique opened its season with a new production of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice, offered in the 1859 version arranged by the French composer for the great mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot. The Comique’s Orphée (seen Oct. 12) was directed by Aurélien Bory, with Raphaël Pichon conducting the period instruments of his Ensemble Pygmalion.

Berlioz used music from both the original Italian version of the score, which cast Orfeo as a castrato, and the later French version, in which the lute-playing hero was a tenor. Pichon and Bory extended the rearrangement of the score in several places. The festive overture was replaced with a poignant passage from Gluck’s ballet Don Juan, with its presentiments of hell, establishing a somber funereal mood for the opening scene. Apparently, Berlioz had considered something similar. More worryingly, Gluck’s expedient happy ending celebrating love was cut here in favor of a more Romantic presentation of total loss via a blackout. Despite the new and exciting dramatic reality that Gluck brought to opera, his Orphée et Euridice was a product of the Age of Enlightenment: the work is given its essential classical balance by following the intense lament of Orphée with the happy denouement. Bory did succeed in creating a visual world of misty images, created by a vast mobile mirror suspended over the entire stage, reflecting both the characters and the orchestra pit, backed by images of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s painting showing Orphée leading Eurydice back from hell. The mirror tilted precipitously, providing a real sense of the underworld and its ephemeral spirits. The acting was simple and stylized, and even if it was not the composer’s intention, the final blackout—in which even the lights over the auditorium’s emergency exits were covered—brought the curtain down to a devastating abyss.

Marianne Crebassa was remarkable in the Viardot role of Orphée. This rising star has done nothing finer in her career. Crebassa’s naturally rich mezzo was even throughout its range and glowed with intensity, from the spectacular virtuosity of “Amour, viens rendre à mon âme,” capped with a thoughtful cadenza punctuated by expressive pauses, to her overwhelming singing of “J’ai perdu mon Eurydice,” after which the first-night audience sat in stunned silence. Despite an announced throat infection and an unflattering costume, Hélène Guilmette made a delicately poetic Eurydice and gave a vocally accomplished performance of her big aria. Although Lea Desandre’s soprano Amour was deprived of her final magical life-giving powers, she was nonetheless a sparkling character.

It was slightly incongruous, in an evening that paid little attention to historical authenticity, to use period instruments that predated Berlioz, but Pichon’s players brought exciting momentum to the drama. The brass rang out with percussive force at climactic moments, and the excellent singing and diction of the Pygmalion chorus brought this revolutionary opera vividly to life. —Stephen J. Mudge



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