Composer Christoph Willibald Gluck
Monday, 20. October 2003
07:30 pm – 09:20 pm
Duration est. 1 hours 50 minutes
To List of Performances
- Musikalische Leitung
- Ivor Bolton
- Amir Hosseinpour
- Amir Hosseinpour
- Nigel Lowery
- Bühne und Kostüme
- Nigel Lowery
- Pat Collins
- Andrés Máspero
A husband laments the death of his wife. He follows her to the underworld and finds her there. But he is forbidden to look at her. He does it anyway! Has he now lost her forever? Or will the gods' hearts be moved by this loving, "human" glance? In 1762, Gluck put the quietus on the artificiality of baroque opera with this work - from then on the human element took center stage.
Echoed by the chorus, Orpheus is mourning the death of his beloved Euridice. He begs the gods either to restore Euridice to life or to allow him to die as well. At this point Amor appears and announces to the bereaved husband that the gods have been moved by his sorrow and taken pity on him. He shall have their permission to descend into Hades and lead Euridice back from the dead. The gods, however, have made one condition: Orpheus must not look back at Euridice, nor offer an explanation for his behaviour either, otherwise she will be lost to him forever. Orpheus realises the danger which this condition involves: Euridice will doubt his love when he turns away from her. He is confident, however, that with Amor's help and the strength of his love he will be able to stand the test set him by the gods.
In Hades Orpheus is greeted by a chorus of furies and demons who describe the kingdom of the dead as a place of terror and torment. Orpheus replies that no torment that the Nether World can offer could equal the fire of his ardent love. The sweetness of his song helps him to overcome the resistance of the furies and they allow him to enter.
The chorus of happy shades sings about the Valley of the Blest, which Orpheus now enters in search of Euridice. He is driven by his longing to find her and begs the spirits to lead him to her. His wish is fulfilled and Euridice is returned from the dead.
Euridice is simply happy to be together with Orpheus again, while he urges her to leave the kingdom of the dead. When he lets go of her hand, she begins to have doubts about his love. She begs him to look at her, but Orpheus remembers what the gods have stipulated and refuses. In the end, Euridice believes that he no longer loves her and refuses to follow him any further. Orpheus is unable to withstand any longer and turns round. The moment he looks at Euridice, she dies. Orpheus wants to kill himself and follow her down into Hades, but Amor prevents him from doing so, as he is affected by Orpheus' grief and resolution. He rewards him by bringing Euridice back to life.
Orpheus and Euridice are a happy couple. Euridice is bitten by a snake, dies and has to go down into Hades. With Amor's permission, Orpheus strides through the fires of hell and reaches the Valley of the Blest. There he finds Euridice and leads her out, but when he turns round to look at her he loses her forever. He is torn torn to pieces by the Thracian women at a Bacchanalian orgy, because he has turned away from the world. His head is carried across the sea to the island of Lesbos and becomes an oracle there.
© Bavarian State Opera
Nigel Lowery and Amir Hosseinpour join forces to stage Orphée et Eurydice
Nigel Lowery and Amir Hosseinpour already worked together on Richard Jones's cult production of Giulio Cesare in Egitto at Munich's Nationaltheater back in 1993. Now, after having put some thrilling work on display at any number of European theatres, the two artists are finally making their Bavarian State Opera début as a directing team with Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orphée et Eurydice. Their production of Händel's Rinaldo in Innsbruck and Berlin was recently singled out by "Opernwelt" magazine as staging of the year.
You two met 16 years ago while working on a Carmen production at Opera North. How has your collaboration developed since then?
Nigel Lowery We collaborated for the first time on Giulio Cesare in 1993, when I did the designs and Amir the choreography. Then, over the past ten years we kept on working together more and more for the theatre - and fortunately we also became good friends as well.
Amir Hosseinpour It was a very natural further development of our careers, without our ever having planned it. At some point in time we realized that we could think best on certain pieces when we did it together. After Cesare, came Il barbiere di Siviglia and Der fliegende Holländer, Pétrouchka for the Bavarian State Ballet, L'enfant et les sortilèges and Rinaldo in Innsbruck, Montpellier and Berlin. Orphée et Eurydice is now our sixth joint project as a directing team.
It's probably an immeasurable advantage when the choreographer and the designer work hand in hand and develop their ideas for their own production.
Nigel Lowery It really is a form of cross-pollination to have a regular artistic counterpart. Your own subjectivity is diffused by someone who may think in the same direction yet has another pair of eyes.
Since the invention of opera, the mythological singer Orpheus has been brought to the stage as an operatic protagonist in a great number of works. The pieces from Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orpheus opera we know best are the pops concert favorite, the aria "Che faró senza Euridice" and the "Dance of the Blessed Spirits" - and we quickly connect this music with a rather stiff classicism. When we listen to it more precisely, however, the music is downright gesticular, physical and predestined for placing a special emphasis in the performance on the choreography.
Amir Hosseinpour It's very striking how many choreographers over the centuries have been attracted by the Orpheus story. I think the music in this opera is fantastically well-suited for the dance. Gluck's music may not by as marked by eccentric rhythms as are the works of Händel or Rameau, but it takes everything - even itself in its expression - very seriously.
Must this seriousness be retained?
Nigel Lowery Oh, yes. Gluck is not making fun of this material. We work very precisely on preparation when we analyze the dramatic situation. You have to allow the music to speak to you and give you the ideas for the interpretation. In all seriousness - but, of course, not without a certain irony, too.
You have developed a very stringent sequence of scenes for the new Munich production, beginning with the lonely, sorrowing Orpheus, who descends into the underworld to find his beloved, and is finally allowed - as a happy turn of events in the opera - to return to earth with her. One especially tempting feature is the invention of this under, or counter world - Hades.
Nigel Lowery Needless to say, we had long discussions on how our underworld, which is shown in the two central acts, might look. The way this region, which nobody can characterize or define, is shown on the stage is of course a fundamental decision. Even when death as a direct adversary marks every facet of life, it is something that can be shown with interchangeable ways and means. Life only takes on meaning through the concept of our own tragic end. Orpheus as an artist is more receptive to this and has a more sensitive antenna for these kinds of feelings.
Might that also be a reason why the artist Orpheus is the ideal character to undertake this journey to the world of the dead and death?
Nigel Lowery That may be, but the Orpheus myth isn't the only one that treats this subject. For example we have the famous Japanese creation myth of the ancestor-god pair of Izanagi and Izanami, in which the male god seeks to bring back his sister from this counter world and is also forbidden to turn around. Of course he cannot resist the temptation, so he does turn around and sees her body decayed and eaten by worms. Thereupon Izanami, dishonored by this revelation, is transformed into a fury and chases her brother out of the underworld. Interestingly enough there is a similar myth in many other cultures. It seems to be a basic necessity of humans to deal with the connection with and the overcoming of the underworld.
Amir Hosseinpour The hardest thing in treating stories like this one is not simply to spell them out. Of course we can simply follow the instructions we have from Gluck and Berlioz, but then the enormous pathos on the stage can suddenly turn into involuntary comedy. The madcap theatrical intrigues of Händel and Rameau give us on the one hand plenty of room to play, while on the other hand they are not imbued with such seriousness. The Orpheus story in its basic features is not that easy to change and place in another context of time and situation. This is why the unorthodox thinking method leading over many cultural side roads - we call it "lateral thinking" - is very important to give this work a new color.
Of course this can lead to an ironic diffusion of the myth, such as the one Offenbach displays in his operetta Orphée aux enfers, in which the married couple Orpheus and Eurydice want nothing more fervently than finally to get away from one another. Instead of this, Gluck's protagonists, and thus Berlioz's as well, embody an almost mythical ideal of unconditional love.
Nigel Lowery And yet the piece is characterized by a unique tension. When Gluck was conceiving his Orpheus (first in Italian then in French), he was looking for an opposite design to the formalistic opera seria based on a model that left more room for natural human emotions than tradition allowed. And so he and his librettists developed a dramatic form through which the language of the heart could be appreciably more directly and naturalistically articulated on the operatic stage. And this brings us to the actual key to this work: Gluck created his Orpheus as a sensitive, early romantic hero, driven by his emotions - in the garb of a god from ancient mythology.
Amir Hosseinpour Gluck seems to have had a particular weakness for the creation of these extreme situations. In Alceste, as well, a woman tries to get to the underworld in exchange for her husband, and the Iphigeneia operas also focuses on the struggle between human, natural sensitivity and divine commandment. Gluck developed a special sense for the most imaginable theatrically effective characterization of these conflicts with the counter world.
Nigel Lowery The whole thing happens here, nevertheless, in a far more abstract setting. After all Gluck was composing for a decidedly homogenous court audience.
Yet we have the impression that, especially in the large choral passages, Gluck has almost composed an oratorio.
Nigel Lowery Perhaps the resultant, occasionally fairly static performance tradition is another reason why Gluck's operas have become so popular over the past twenty years. On the other hand this very Orpheus continues to retain the nimbus of a mysterious work by virtue of the different versions by the composer himself and Berlioz's later adaptation for a mezzo-soprano in the title role.
Amir Hosseinpour The decisive point in the dramaturgy of the performance we jointly created is the ballet at the end of the opera. Of course, dance and choreographic elements run through the entire work, but at the end, the whole Orpheus story is told again from a different angle in a concise ballet divertissement totally in the tradition of Gluck.
This way, the audience will experience two interpretations in our production - and also witness two possibilities of recounting the end of the Orpheus story.
The conversation was conducted by Peter Heilker
English translation by Donald Arthur
© Bavarian State Opera
Ivor Bolton studierte am Royal College of Music und am National Opera Studio in London. Anschließend war er Musikdirektor der English Touring Opera, der Glyndebourne Touring Opera und des Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Gastdirigate führten ihn u. a. nach Wien, Zürich, Frankfurt, Paris, London, New York, Amsterdam, Dresden, Leipzig und Barcelona sowie zu den Festspielen in Glyndebourne, Aix-en-Provence und seit 2000 jährlich nach Salzburg. Von 2004 bis 2016 war er Chefdirigent des Mozarteum-Orchesters Salzburg. Derzeit ist er musikalischer Leiter des Dresdner Festspielorchesters, seit 2015 außerdem Musikdirektor am Teatro Real in Madrid und seit 2016 Chefdirigent des Sinfonieorchesters Basel. (Stand: 2019)