Magazine article The Spectator

Sublime Resolution

Magazine article The Spectator

Sublime Resolution

Article excerpt

Opera

Orphee et Eurydice (New Theatre, Cardiff)

Sublime resolution

What is the centre of interest in Gluck's Orphie et Eurydice, as realised by Berlioz? The new and welcome production by Welsh National Opera has quite a few ideas on the subject, though it isn't obvious that they cohere. There is plenty of action, in the most straightforward sense, and that seems to me to be an excellent thing, since people do so readily lapse into seeing Gluck as a purely statuesque composer, whose characters themselves strive to attain marmoreality. That is a slander, and has a lot to do with his virtually permanent neglect.

Yet in an interview published in the programme book, the conductor Paul McCreesh says: `We have to find the pain of the tragedy fundamentally through the power of the text, and perhaps in this piece through a sense of opera as cantata.' Of course a cantata can be dramatic but, if McCreesh isn't making some contrast between drama and cantata, it is not clear what he is saying. He fully acknowledges the suffering in the work: `In Orphee, from the very first notes of the first act, there is an extraordinary feeling of anguish.' More controversially, he claims: `There's an extraordinary charged eroticism - it's an opera that celebrates the joy of love, the tenderness of love and the pain of love (which maybe, as in life, are all the same thing).' That nonsensical parenthesis suggests that he is straying from what he feels to what, very temporarily, sounds good. Anyway, whatever Gluck may be, he is never erotic, in the sense of giving a charge of sensual passion to his music. That is one thing that brings him close to Berlioz, as it separates him from Wagner, two composers who adored him and adapted him in quite different ways; Berlioz with much more respectful restraint.

In the interests of authenticity, presumably, McCreesh begins the overture with the house lights on, while the audience are still taking their seats and chattering. When the curtain rises, it is on a funeral in a glade, with the mourners wearing vaguely contemporary clothes - myth is as suitably garbed in the costume of one age as of another. Orphee, black-suited and convincingly boyish, is performed by Katarina Karneus. Her desolate opening cries, one of the most arresting effects in the whole of opera, have less volume and intensity than would have suited the ardour with which McCreesh conducted. Tempi tended to be sprightly, and - I suppose authenticity again - phrasing quite choppy. This suggested grief as distraction rather than what much of Gluck's music requires, a becalmed state of agony. …

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