Tuesday 24 November 2015

Stylistic dichotomy - Orfeo ed Euridice from Laurence Equilbey & Franco Fagioli

Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice - Franco Fagioli
Gluck Orfeo ed Euridice, highlights of Orphee et Eurydice; Franco Fagioli, Malin Hartelius, Emmanuelle de Negri, Accentus, Insula Orchestra, Laurence Equilbey
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 14 2015
Star rating: 3.0

A stylistic dichotomy in this period Orfeo with title role lacking classical purity

For their latest disc on Archiv, conductor Laurence Equilbey, her Insula Orchestra and choir Accentus give us almost two works for the price of one. The disc encompasses elements of both Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice (Vienna 1762) and later Orphee et Eurydice (Paris 1774) with Franco Fagioli as Orfeo, Malin Hartelius as Euridice and Emmanuelle de Negri as Amore. They perform complete Gluck's original 1762 version Orfeo ed Euridice and then on a third disc, entitled Orpheo, there is a 65 minute compilation which has highlights of both the 1762 version and the later 1774 Paris version. Essentially producing a potted historically informed version of the Ricordi Edition, the version of the opera most common in the 20th century. Laurent Equilbey hopes that this compilation will appeal to people who would be put of by the purist complete 1762 opera. (see my interview with Laurence Equilbey)

Gluck produced a number of versions of Orfeo/Orphee, the 1762 Vienna version in Italian with alto castrato in the title role, a revision of this for soprano castrato (now very rarely performed) and the 1774 Paris version in French which expanded the original court entertainment into a full-length evening with an haut-contre replacing the alto castrato. In fact the original had a strong French influence with a lot of dance and the integration of the chorus into the action.

Modern performances started very much with Berlioz who created a version for Pauline Viardot, conflating Vienna and Paris but transposed for female mezzo-soprano. This generated a stream of performance and the standard version from my youth, the Ricordi Edition, is essentially Berlioz back translated into Italian.

Surprisingly for a French conductor and French ensemble, Laurence Equilbey has chosen not to record the haut-contre version in French but to focus on the alto version in Italian.

Laurence Equilbey and her orchestra bring a superb sense of classical drama to Gluck, a quiet sense of line in the lyrical passages and a wonderful vivid intensity in the dramatic ones, especially as recording is taking from live performances. The chorus and dance of the furies is a fine as anything I have heard recently. But listen to the whole scene and you reach a stylistic fork. Franco Fagioli's Orfeo seems rooted firmly in the 19th century, he sings with a vibrato so rich that at times there seems little core to the voice. This compromises any sense of line and rather than matching the classical expression of the orchestra he brings a dynamic vibrant sense which evokes much later interpreters.

It is not just Franco Fagioli, both he and the other soloists also ornament the vocal lines, something I am unclear whether Gluck would have wanted. And in the climactic scene between Orfeo and Euridice at the end of the opera, both Franco Fagioli and Malin Hartelius emote  intensely and both push their voices to he limits. In one sense the scene is terrific, but it is Gluck seen through a 19th century lense.

Emmanuelle Negri makes a poised and neat Amore, stylish and not a little appealing.

Franco Fagioli and Malin Hartelius are finely expressive artists and I do not wan to wish too much to decry their interpretations but simply the style of performance is not one to which I would want to listen in this opera. My ideal Orfeo combines classical purity and line with that rare intensity which does not distort the vocal line.

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) - Orpheo (highlights of the versions for Vienna (1762) and Paris (1774)) [66.38]
Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) - Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) [85.20]
Orfeo - Franco Fagioli (counter-tenor)
Euridice - Malin Hartelius (soprano)
Amore - Emmanuelle de Negri (soprano)
Insula Orchestra
Laurence Equilbey (conductor)
Recorded live at the Theatre de Poissy, Apri 2015
ARCHIV 479 5315 3CD's [66.38, 38.02, 47.18]
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