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5.0 out of 5 stars Incredible spectacle, fine performance, 12 Oct. 2012
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This review is from: Gluck: Orfeo Ed Euridice (C Major: 710404) [Blu-ray] [2012] [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
Although it still retains some of the mannerisms of opera seria, Orfeo ed Euridice was the first of Gluck's reformist works that would gradually see the elimination of the harpsichord, ballet music, mechanical stage effects, recitativo secco, extravagant aria da capo singing or indeed any decorative effects that didn't serve the progression and meaning of the drama alone. It would seem inappropriate then to engage a production team like La Fura dels Baus to direct a work as intimate and intentionally stripped-back to basics as this, a work that only has three principal roles (with the majority of it sung by only one person), and to stage it as extravagantly, colourfully and spectacularly as it's done here. Projections, computer generated lighting effects, performers swinging and singing from cables, with every modern technological tool employed, the ample outdoor stage of the Castell de Peralada filled not only with chorus and supernumeraries, but even the orchestra are up there as well. This surely wasn't what Gluck intended.

Well, that depends on whether what is up there on the stage enhances the work or detracts from it, and while Carlus Padrissa does go a little overboard on special effects - he's rather over-fond of hanging singers above the stage from cables for my liking - it seems to me (as someone who holds this work in its varied incarnations in very high regard as one of the greatest works in all of opera) that everything works nonetheless in perfect accord with the music, the singing and the dramatic intent of the original work. There's no reason why spectacle and dramatic purpose can't co-exist and, despite the high-tech tools employed and the wow factor of the staging, the director's intention appears to strive for simplicity of expression, adding nothing that can't be derived from the work itself. Much like Gluck did when composing the work 250 years ago, La Fura dels Baus' production represents the same kind of modernisation of stuffy theatricality and musical academicism that the composer was reacting against, showing that opera is capable of being the most invigorating of theatrical experiences.

Whether Gluck's score really needs all this spectacle, or whether it isn't more than capable of being perfectly expressive in purely musical and more traditional dramatic terms, is of course debatable. I'd be less inclined to look favourably on this production if the spectacle detracted from the musical and singing performances, or if it was weak in those areas, but fortunately this is a superb account of the original 1762 Vienna version of Orfeo ed Euridice. It's perhaps not ideal of course to have the conductor Gordon Nikolić wandering about on the stage, leading as the first violin, and there are some minor lapses in timing when the singers don't have visual contact with the pit, but there is dramatic justification in the Orpheus myth for putting music at the centre of the drama as well as a kind of adherence to Gluck's reformist views on the purpose of opera. Considering the challenges then, the singers perform admirably. Anita Rachvelishvili carries the burden of the work as Orpheus well, correctly focussing on the delivery of the singing here - which isn't always easy - and letting the score and the staging carry the dramatic intent and nuance. Maite Alberola is a powerful Eurydice, working well with Rachvelishvili dramatically and musically in their combination of voices. Auxiliadora Toledano has a wonderful brightness of tone that serves well in her role as Cupid and messenger from the Gods.

Created to make a big overall impression on a theatrical audience, the spectacle presents some difficulties for the video director Tiziano Mancini, who is forced to resort to use some extreme angle post-production on-stage shots, editing effects and cross-cutting, but by and large, it gets the full impact and the dynamism of the stage production across well on this Blu-ray release. The HD video transfer is superb - colourful and pinpoint clear, with good sound reproduction in PCM stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1. The BD is all-region playable, with subtitles in Italian, German, English, French, Spanish, Chinese and Korean.
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