TOP 500 REVIEWERon 5 June 2014
The box is made of thick cardboard, but it is not like the usual box set with a lid, but is rather like a bluray box with the side open, so you can place in the double card board CD sleeves. The top of the box has the names of the operas and singers. The other side has the operas and conductors.The front has Gluck the Great operas in big bold yellow letters. Also, yellow lines around the edges. The open part where the sleeves are placed look like the colours of the rainbow. For each sleeve is a different colour, with the same tonal value. Cherry red, pink, orange, light lime green, very light emerald green, cobalt and Ultramarine blue. Obviously the box stands out in an artistic sense. This means that Decca have put a lot of time into the design of this box set. The CD sleeves have Gluck in big letters on the front. For example, CDs 1 & 2 are Cherry red, so the words will be in that colour on a black background, with a cherry red strip around the edges. (See my review further down). Inside the double CD sleeve, simply cherry red. Behind; the composers name, CD number opera and track numbers, plus singers and who is conducting and what orchestra. On the spine, name of opera, and CD numbers. The CD is cherry Red with a black strip down the middle, CD number, opera, singers and orchestra etc.It is very easy to pull the CD's out of the sleeve, you will not tear them. Also,it is impossible to get lost.
DDD. Stereo. Actually, the sound is very good, digital makes it so. Also, it is a Decca product and they have a marvellous record where sound is concerned. I am not a tech head as you can gather. Inside the booklet of 130 pages, is the contents, cast and cue points, A essay, "A musical Language fit for all Nations-Gluck's great Operas". Synopsis with track numbers. In French and German translations as well. But most importantly on the last page, is the following statement, "Libretti in sung language with English translations available at (and you are given a E mail address with a password)". We can download the translations.
The Classical era of the 18th into the early 19th century, was the age of reason, where the pace of technological change and invention accelerated like today. The arts and architecture underwent dramatic change. Artists looked to the ancient civilizations of Greece and Rome which inspired them, so their approach was detached and intellectual. The artists of the ancient world prized simplicity, clarity, moderation and balance. Yet with music the tag classical is more complicated, for harmony and melody was prized, a rebellion against Baroque music's complex polyphony. It was in this period that composers such as Gluck, Haydn and Mozart changed the face of music making, but they did not deny emotion. One can see this in Gluck via his reform operas where simplicity, clarity, harmony and beautiful emotional melodies were prized. He thought music should serve the text and the demands of the plot, and sought to eliminate the florid elaboration of vocal lines, usually by soprano's. He boosted the roles of both the chorus and the orchestra. From John Stanley, Classical music.
The operas Orfeo ed Euridice 1762 and Alceste 1767 are an example of Glucks values, which was a rebellion against Italian opera to which he had been faithful. With his ally Calzabigi and these reform operas, a new age unfolded-the age of the music drama that would peak with Wagner. Everything should serve the drama-ballet,the overture, music production numbers; that which did not serve the drama was eliminated. Everything was reduced to its bare essentials. The recitative serving to keep fluid the flow of music and action. To increase the expressiveness of the orchestra, instruments foreign to it had to be introduced, such as clarinets, trombones, cymbals, the harpsichord up to now accompanying the recitativo had to go. Though in these operas on this set, the Harpsichord does make an appearance as part of the orchestra. The chorus became an important character, and they had to act. The soprano could not stop the action with ornamentation of the arias. Gluck stated " simlicity and truth" had to be the "sole principals of the beautiful in works of art".
ORFEO ed EURIDICE: Vienna version 1762. (1993)
Derek Lee Ragin is a counter tenor who sings the part of Orfeo, which is usually sung by a Contralto or Mezzo. Berlioz in 1859 made an edition of this opera for the Contralto Pauline Viadot. For this, Berlioz readapted the original vocal register of the Italian Orpheus and combined what he considered the best of the French and Italian versions . Basically, he followed the 1774 French score, rearranging it in four acts. and reverting to the Italian where he thought it superior. However, since the 1870's the version of this opera used are adaptions of Berlioz's version back into Italian in three acts, still with a contralto as Orpheus, and incorporating music Berlioz omitted from Gluck's 1774 French score. Confused? Try and work out the different editions of Bruckner's symphonies, or how many editions of Verdi's Don Carlos there are; eight and still counting.
Although Ragin's voice is different, very high, it is still emotionally charged. For example, Che puro ciel, che chiaro sol, or Che faro senza Euridice. I have not heard these arias sung by a counter tenor before, only a mezzo. Yet he has an emotional punch. McNair as Euridice and Sieden Amor complete Gardiner's outstanding team. But there is no Dance of the Blessed spirits which was written for Paris. Gardiner conducts the Monteverdi Choir and The English Baroque Soloists with a sense of drama and is very expressive, played on period instruments. They follow the original Italian text . There is a DVD of this opera with Janet Baker and Elizabeth Gale. Glyndebourne Festival opera conducted by Leppard, producted by Peter Hall. One of the best around. Very traditional edition, just in case you wondered.
ORPHEE ET EURYDICE: Paris version. 1774. 2004. LIVE.
Quel nouveau ciel pare ces lieux Act 2 and J'ai perdu mon Eurydice Act 3 is beautifully sung by Richard Croft who is Orphee. Eurydice Mireille Delunsch and L'Amour Marion Harousseau sing well together. Marc Minkowski conducts the Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble swiftly and at times slowly when the situation requires it. He includes the ballet music which Gluck added at the end. Very few recordings made of this Paris score. There is a French version of this opera DVD with Gardiner, Kozena, Bender and Petibon; she is known to those who like Rameau DVD's.
ALCESTE: Paris version 1776. 1999. LIVE.
This version is regarded as superior in all respects to the Italian original version given in Vienna in 1767.This opera is concerned exclusively with Alceste's sacrifice of her life to save that of her husband, Admete, King of Thessaly.The aria Ombres, larves, pales, compagnes de la mort sung by Von Otter, is different and her version is in keeping with the lighter sound of period instruments. In the Vienna version it is known as Divinites du Styx. Paul Groves is Admete, the husband of Alceste , who has a very distinctive and emotional singing voice. There are familar names in the cast who concentrate on Baroque Music, such as Yann Beuron and Ludovic Tezier. Gardiner conducts the English Baroque Soloists swiftly and brings out the wonderful melodies.
The cast suits Gardiners concept, he even made a DVD of this Live opera which I own. The movement on stage is slow deliberately to suit a director's concept. I did listen to Alceste sung by Maria Callas, Teatro alla Scala cond Giulini, which is a part of the 60 CD big Red box set of her operas, including 12 live, which this particular set comes from. She is a fire eater, which suits a big modern orchestra, but not a period instrument orchestra.
PARIDE ED ELENA: 1770. Never adapted for Paris. 2005.
Gluck borrowed some of the numbers for later operas, but the original remains a master piece as McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort & players show us. The plot is simple, with Paris the most ardent of lovers in pursuit of the initially reluctant Helen. Kozena sings ravishingly as Paris. Her voice is beyond beautiful. Helen is the excellent Susan Gritton. Cupid, or Amore, Carolyn Sampson sings that role sweetly and Gillian Webster is Athene who predicts doom at the end. There are two versions of the final scene, the revised and shortened version.
ARMIDE: 1999. LIVE.
Gluck used a libretto set by Lully almost a century earlier, but the composer Gluck develops a flexible structure. Minkowski conducts the Musiciens du Louvre-Glenoble, swiftly, and makes much of the scores colour and flow. He uses a bigger orchestra then usual with period instruments. Mirelle Delunsch as Armide sings with a firm tone. Charles Workman is suited to the role of Renaud, sounding almost baritonal at times. Eva Podles sings with intensity. The minor roles are sung well. Also,you have the soprano Magdalena Kozena in the role as A Pleasure. Gluck stated "Perhaps this is the best of all my works". But it has not caught the public interest as have other reform operas of his. What it has going for it, is the soft sensuous tone of the music. There is a passionate love duet in Act 5. There are several great solo dramatic scenes, two of them for Armide. The plot is concerned with the love of the pagan sorceress Armide, princess of Damascus, for the Christian knight and Hero Renaud, and his enchantment, disenchantment and finally his abandonment of her.
IPHIGENIE EN AUDLIDE: 1774. 1990. First opera of Gluck in French.
The finest moments in this opera are the great monologues by Agamemnon. Jose Van Dam at the end of the second act is at his finest when he tussles with himself over the sacrifice of his daughter, and he fully convey's the suffering of a person in his position. Lynne Dawson brings expressive feeling to all the roles she sings. Von Otter gives a good account of herself. Gardiner conducts the Orchestre de l'opera de Lyon with urgency, keeping the tension at a high level. He Convey's the tensions of a live performance. The Lyon opera orchestra is playing modern instruments, but Gardiner encourages the players to use some of the methods of period instruments. Here the conductor elimates the distortion of the piece which Wagner's edition created, and reconstructs the score as presented in 1775. Both Wagner and Berlioz especially, admired Gluck.
IPHIGENIE EN TAURIDE : 1986.
Gardiner's reading is electrifying, bringing out the full range of expression from first to last. The Orchestre de l'Opera de Lyon plays on modern instruments. The singers are from the team that the conductor built up. Diana Montague sings with tenderness and freshness. Allen is as usual his outstanding self with his distinctive baritone voice. Nancy Argenta eventually became a top opera singer, she is first Priestess. This opera is considered by the public to be a better opera than Iphigenie en Aulide. It is the crowning achievement of Glucks career, for this opera illustrated his ideas. The libretto is the best he ever set. Everything in the opera is subordinate to the whole. However, this is Classical opera at its height.
HISTORIC RECORDINGS AND RARITIES: most are ADD, a few DDD's.BONUS CD.
Quel chiaro rio. La corona. Scene 1V, Pietro Metastasio. DDD. Cecilia Bartoli mezzo soprano. Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin/ Forck. This type of composer caused Gluck to begin his reform operas. Ah! non turbi il mio riposo. Telemaco,Act 2: Marco Coltellini. DDD. Andreas Scholl countertenor. Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/ Roger Norrington. Divinites du Styx. Alceste Act 1. Vienna version 1767. Suzanne Danco soprano. Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Alberto Erede. C'est un torrent impetueux. La Rencontre imprevue, Act 3; Louis Hurtaut Dancourt. Gerald Souzay Baritone. Paris Conservatoire Orch/ Robert Corman. Bel inconnu qu'ici l' amour amene. Je cherche a vous faire le sort le plus doux. Mezzo soprano Janet Baker. English Chamber Orch/ Leppard. O del mio dolce ardor. Paride ed Elena Act 1. Teresa Berganza Mezzo-soprano. Orch of the Royal Opera house, Covent Garden/ Alexander Gibson. Se mai senti spirarti sul volto. La Clemenza di Tito. Act 2; Pietro Metastasio.DDD. Magdalena Kozena, mezzo-soprano. Prague Phil/ Michel Swierczewski. Cette nuit Iphigenie en Tauride, Act 1. Regene Crespin Mezzo-soprano. Orchestre de la Suisse Romande/ Alain Lombard. Misera, dove son! Ezio, Act 3; Pietro Metastasio. DDD-Ist version,Prague, 1750. Cecilia Bartoli mezzo-soprano. Akademie fur Alte Musik Berlin/ Forck. Viens, je suis un epoux qui t'adore. orphee et Eurydice Act 3. Paris version 1774. Leopald Simoneau tenor. Suzanne Danco soprano. Orch des Concerts Lamoureux/Hans Rosbaud. J'ai perdu mon Eurydice. Orfeo ed Euridice, Vienna version 1762 (Paris 1764) Marilyn Horne Mezzo soprano. Orchestre de la suisse Romande/ Henry Lewis. L' espoir renait dans mon ame. Orphee et Eurydice Act 1. Paris version for tenor 1774.DDD. Juan Diego Florez tenor. Orquestra sinfonia de Madrid/ Jesus Lopez-Cobos. Vienni, appaga il tuo consorte! Orfeo ed euridice, Act 3. Vienna version 1762. Horne mezzo-soprano& Pilar Lorengar soprano. Orchestra Royal Opera house/ George Solti. Che puro Ciel, che chiaro sol. Che faro senza Euridice? Orfeo ed euridice Act 2. Act 3. Vienna version 1762. Janet Baker-Mezzo-soprano. Che faro senza Euridice? Orfeo ed Euridice Act 3. Vienna version 1762. Kathleen Ferrier contralto. Southern Philharmonic orchestra/ Fritz Stiedry. There is a CD available of the singing in this rendition of the opera.
I hope you enjoy this set as much as I do. Recommended.
References: Ewen,D. The complete book of classical music 1978. Prentice-Hall. Guinn,J & Stone, L (Eds). The St James Opera Encyclopedia 1997. Visible Ink. Hayes,J. A musical language for all nations. 2014. Decca. Stanley, J. Classical music. 1995. RD Press Australia.