Orfeo ed Euridice
Rachvelishvili, Alberola, Toledano; Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Música Catalana, Orquesta bandArt, Nikolić. Production: La Fura dels Baus. Kultur BD4814 (Blu-ray) or D4814 (DVD), 110 mins., subtitled
The "beautiful simplicity" that Gluck sought in his reform operas becomes beautiful complexity in this production by the Barcelona theater troupe La Fura dels Baus at the 2011 Festival Castell de Peralada in Catalonia. Stage director Carlus Padrissa and his fellow "Furistas" present the original 1762 Orfeo with much of the spectacular visual language of their Valencia Ring — video, interactive graphics, acrobatics, singers and supers who are harnessed and elevated. These dazzling effects are too busy only occasionally, and the director is sensitive enough to abstain from them for Orfeo's Act III lament and his grieving just after it.
More remarkable is the conductor-less Orquesta bandArt, led by concertmaster Gordan Nikolić. These forty musicians take the stage in athletic shoes and gray stretchwear with vertical black stripes; many have a black stripe down the face. Some have music stands and chairs at stage left; others open traps that yield scores and seats. In Act II, many are on their feet and off book, swarming and playing furiously as Furies or embodying Orfeo's soothing lyre or the Elysian Fields' spirits; even a cellist plays on the go. Like the dancing imagery, these mobile musicians stand in for actual dancers, with no loss of precision or intensity in their playing.
Anita Rachvelishvili, just twenty-six or twenty-seven years old here, ravishes the ear with her dark, voluptuous mezzo, rich throughout its range. She doesn't sound at all stretched in singing Orfeo's Act III lament almost as slowly as Alice Raveau did on her classic, abridged record; Rachvelishvili and the otherwise up-tempo Nikolić take 6:33, compared to 4:32 for Janet Baker–Raymond Leppard and 3:54 for Magdalena Kožená–John Eliot Gardiner on other videos. One hopes that time will bring more variety of coloration and inflection to Rachvelishvili's Orfeo. Maite Alberola's Euridice is expressive, edgy and urgent in a fuller lyric soprano than we often hear in the role. Soprano Auxiliadora Toledano pipes purely and sweetly and delightfully ornaments Amore's aria. The Cor de Cambra del Palau de la Música Catalana sounds strong whether groveling on the stage, singing through head-sized apertures or with faces morphing out of projections.
The three soloists are untraditionally but smashingly clad. Designer Aitziber Sanz doesn't try to make Orfeo look male; she flaunts Rachvelishvili's fabulous black hair and fine skin by dressing her in a low-cut, loose blue pantsuit (but why the cross?). Alberola sports yet more cleavage in Euridice's white wedding dress. Toledano, in close-up and apparently singing, looks like a beauteous golden angel on high, but scrutiny suggests that it's a projection — Furista magic — and that she actually sings from the stage in the same tight stretchwear as the orchestra. Meanwhile, a third Amore, a super but also golden and also mouthing the words, flaps and flutters above like a bird.
There's not a dull moment, and this video is first choice for the 1762 Vienna version, as the Kožená is for the 1859 Berlioz edition and the Baker is for the 1889 Milan conflation. The 1774 Paris version with a tenor Orphée still lacks a strong video.
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