Tuesday 23 March 2021

Giving Gluck's Paride ed Elena its due: Bampton Classical Opera's 2021 season

Jacques-Louis David: Paris and Helen (1788), Musée du Louvre, Paris (detail)
Jacques-Louis David: Paris and Helen (1788)
Musée du Louvre, Paris (detail)


During the 1760s the composer Christoph Willibald Gluck and librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi collaborated on a sequence of theatrical works which would revolutionise opera performance [see my article To delight the eyes and ears without the risk of sinning against reason or common sense: the creation of Reform Opera]. 

The first of these was the ballet Don Juan, followed by three operas Orfeo ed Euridice, Alceste and Paride ed Elena. Orfeo ed Euridice remains iconic whilst Alceste is occasionally performed (though more often in its later French re-composition) yet Paride ed Elena remains virtually unknown getting only very occasional revivals and may never have been staged in London.

This is going to be remedied by Bampton Classical Opera whose 2021 Summer season features a staging of Paride ed Elena directed by Jeremy Gray in a new English translation by Gilly French, conducted by Thomas Blunt with Samantha Louis-Jean, Lucy Anderson,  Lauren Lodge-Campbell and Lisa Howarth. There will be performances in the Deanery Garden, Bampton (23 and 24 July 2021), The Orangery Theatre, Westonbirt School, Gloucestershire (30 August) and St John's Smith Square (24 September).

During Gluck's life-time the work was the least popular of his three Viennese Reform Operas. In the period to 1800, there were more than 100 performances of Orfeo ed Euridice in Vienna, compared to more than 70 of Alceste and just 25 of Paride ed Elena. I was lucky enough to see Paride ed Elena staged at the Drottningholm Festival in 1998 (as part of a season which included Orfeo ed Euridice and Alceste) with Magdalena Kozena as Paride, and in 2003 Paul McCreesh conducted the work at the Barbican (this may have been the work's London premiere) with his Gabrieli Consort, again with Magdalena Kozena as Paride, plus Susan Gritton, Carolyn Sampson and Gillian Webster (available on disc).

Bampton is also reviving another Gluck rarity this year, his 1761 one-act opera La Corona (The Crown) which was written for four of Empress Maria Theresa's daughters (the children of the Imperial family were all horribly talented musically and Gluck wrote a number of operas for them). La Corona is being given two concert performances, at St John's Smith Square (18 May 2021) and at University Church, Oxford (22 May 2021).

Audience access and booking details for these performances will be announced in due course. Full details from the Bampton Classical Opera website.

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