Monday 16 August 2021

Gluck's Paride ed Elena staged in London for the first time, 250 years after the premiere

Gluck: Paride ed Elena - Ella Taylor, Lucy Anderson - Bampton Classical Opera (photo Jeremy Gray)
Gluck: Paride ed Elena - Ella Taylor, Lucy Anderson - Bampton Classical Opera (photo Jeremy Gray)

Christoph Willibald Gluck wrote four works with librettist Ranieri de' Calzabigi in Vienna in the 1760s which would become an important key in the Reform movement aimed at creating a new style of serious opera. Of the four works one is a ballet, Don Juan (1761) which is perhaps understandably little known as styles of ballet and dance dramaturgy have changed considerably since the late 18th century. But of the three Reform Operas, Orfeo ed Euridice (1762) and Alceste (1767) are well known yet the third, Paride ed Elena (1770) is hardly known at all.

Londoners will be getting the chance to experience the opera, staged in London for the first time, when Bampton Classical Opera brings its new production of the work to St John's Smith Square on 24 September 2021. Whilst the work has received occasional (very occasional) concert performances in London (Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort & Players performed it at the Barbican in 2003, which MAY have been the work's London premiere), it has never been staged in London (but then when was the last time you saw a Gluck opera in London that wasn't Orfeo!)

It has to be admitted that Paride ed Elena has never been as popular as Gluck's other Reform operas. It was the least popular in Vienna, 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. [You can read more of the background in my article, To delight the eyes and ears without the risk of sinning against reason or common sense: the creation of Reform Opera].

It tells the story of Paris' wooing of Helen (with the help of Amor and against the advice of Pallas Athene), using four soprano soloists, dancers and chorus. I was lucky enough to see the work staged at Drottningholm in 1998 (alongside Alceste) and can testify to the opera's imagination as a stage work. Bampton Classical Opera will be performing it in a new English translation by Gilly French, directed by Jeremy Gray, and conducted by Thomas Blunt.

The cast features Ella Taylor as Paris (a role written for the soprano castrato Giuseppe Millico who created the role of Orfeo in Gluck's Parma version of Orfeo ed Euridice with the title role transposed up for soprano castrato). Taylor won second prize in the 2020 Ferrier Awards and this will be their professional stage debut. Helen is sung by Lucy Anderson, first-prizewinner in the 2019 Bampton Young Singers’ Competition. Amor (in disguise as Erasto) is Lauren Lodge-Campbell, whilst Lisa Howarth is Pallas Athene.

Further details from St John's Smith Square website.

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