Back in July I reviewed John Eliot Gardiner’s Paris recording of Gluck’s Orphée et Eurydice which I found musically fine, in good taste (too much so) and ultimately unengaging. Lydia pointed me to a Bayerischen Staatsoper version with Vesselina Kasarova in the title role. It’s the 1859 Berlioz version with a ballet tacked on at the end, more of which below. Musically it’s very good. Chorus and Orchestra under Ivor Bolton are excellent, Kasarova sings and acts very competently and manages an amazing cadenza in her big first act aria. Rosemary Joshua as Eurydice is perfectly adequate if a bit anonymous and Deborah York is an androgynous looking and sounding Amour which works fine for this production.
The production, by Nigel Lowery and Amir Hosseinpour, is really weird, even by German standards. In the opening act, Amour is in clown make up and carrying a plastic baby. In Act 2, half the chorus are an on stage orchestra being cooked in weird stoves and cooking pots by the other half of the chorus dressed as very bloody chefs. There is a lot of arm waving reminiscent of Peter Sellars in a particularly self indulgent mood. At the beginning of Act 3 Orphée emerges from a pink coffin, complete with Christmas tree. He then wanders around stroking a plushy cat, a toy monkey and a rather bedraggled teddy bear before a polar bear appears and wanders around for no reason that I could fathom. The physical interaction between Orphée and Eurydice later in Act 3 is also completely at odds with the libretto. Then just when one thinks it’s all over; after all we’ve reached the end of the score, up starts a twenty minute ballet in which completely bizarre choreography (by Amir Hosseinpour) is used to retell the whole Orpheus story up to, and including, him getting his head torn off by Maenads. Two dummies in chairs watch the dance action from the front of the stage. Somewhere in there my WTFometer broke.
Felix Breisach directed for video. I don’t know whether I would have benefited from seeing more of the stage picture than his almost incessant close ups allowed. Certainly I was confused enough when he did pull back far enough to see all that the directors were offering. Technically it’s a perfectly OK DVD The picture is decent quality 16:9 and the sound options are PCM stereo and DTS 5.0. The latter was well balanced and sounded fine to me. Given the general weirdness of the production some director interviews or the like would have been nice. The booklet merely has an essay on Gluck and reform opera in general.