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GLUCK: Orfeo ed Euridice

CD Button Hartelius, de Negri; Fagioli; Accentus, Insula Orchestra, Equilbey. Archiv 4795315 (3)

Recordings Orfeo ed Euridice Cover 216

THE FIRST QUESTION that arises with Gluck’s best-known masterpiece is, which edition? Archiv’s new release is rather curious. Discs 2 and 3 offer the spare “Vienna edition” of 1762, written for the castrato Guadagni. But this live recording, made in April 2015 at the Théâtre de Poissy, derives from a concert tour conductor Laurence Equilbey and rising-star countertenor Franco Fagioli had made, drawing freely from material in the later “Paris edition,” rewritten for high tenor in 1774—and perforce translated back into Italian. The “Paris” material includes some of the highlights everyone expects, including the hero’s bravura aria ending to Act I, the purely orchestral “Dance of the Furies” and the flute-led “Dance of the Blessed Spirits.” On Disc 1, those excerpts get set into a context of other highlights common to both versions, yielding a sequence that Equilbey and Archiv have dubbed “Orpheo.” So, buyers face paying for three CDs but really getting only two; those selectively downloading this release should proceed with caution.

Fagioli is far from the first countertenor to record this part, which contraltos, mezzos, tenors and baritones have all attempted with varying success. He has shown his remarkable facility in and stylistic understanding of eighteenth-century music on several previous recordings. Among the recorded countertenors—why has no one captured David Daniels in the part?—Fagioli is probably the most sonorous, alongside Derek Lee Ragin. Yet his performance fails to arouse much dramatic interest or sympathy. Gluck’s late-career “reform” operas demand a certain level of rapturous declamatory investment that Equilbey has not drawn from her otherwise well-styled soloists or chorus. The Insula Orchestra, too, fine as they are, do not at any point play as if lives depended on the power of music—which certainly Euridice’s does.

Fagioli does vocally outstanding work in that bravura addition on Disc 1, here “Addio, o miei sospiri,” with many challenging cadenzas thrown in; yet his emotional attitude and the orchestra remain rather blank. This well-met technical challenge hardly sounds like a hero working himself up for a descent into Hades. And the spirits who meet him there—the thirty-member chorus Accentus, musical and stylish—don’t sound much fiercer or more otherworldly than they did in the opening scene at Euridice’s tomb or than they will in the Elysian Fields or when hymning Love’s triumph at the end. Fagioli and Equilbey manage to make Orfeo’s famously heartrending C-major lament sound emotionally neutral. Marin Hartelius’s Euridice is cleanly sung, yet marked constriction at her range’s very top impedes one’s pleasure from the performance. Emmanuelle de Negri’s cool aplomb makes Amor’s music effective and convincing. This highly decorous recording simply misses the essence of Gluck’s drama. René Jacobs’s set on Harmonia Mundi, featuring Bernarda Fink, remains my top recommendation.  —David Shengold 

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