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Anthony Perraglia
Professor Mattern
Eng 10
10 December 2013 Orfeo ed Euridice

During the transition from the Baroque to Classical period, opera slowly became entertainment focused on the middle class. There were less operas written about kings and queens, and more about mythical figures. The reform of opera might not have been started by him, but Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) is said to be one of the first operatic composers to adapt his newer works to the reformation styles. ( Hanning, 324) Some examples of the style included new stories appealing to the middle class, less attention directed at the singer, and more attention to the music. One of his first operas, Orfeo ed Euridice, is a prime example. Although Gluck’s 1762 production of Orfeo ed Euridice in Vienna is his greatest success, it was an opera previously used by Monteverdi, titled L’Orfeo. (Boyden, 79) Orfeo ed Euridice is somewhat similar to L’Orfeo, seeing as the two follow the Greek myth of Orpheus. Though there were similarities between the two, no evidence was found stating that Gluck was influenced by the previous production, or if he was even familiar with Monteverdi’s work. The myth describes a young shepherd, Orpheus, whose music had the power to tame the animals and win the affection of others. (Boyden, 79) On his wedding day, while walking through the fields of Thrace, he receives word that his wife, Eurydice, has died. (Boyden, 79) Through the underworld he travels, retrieving his bride, only for her to be lost again. (Boyden, 79) Returning to the fields of Thrace, Orpheus mourns the loss of his bride. At that moment, Apollo, Orpheus’s father, descends from the sky. (Boyden, 80) He raises Orpheus into the heavens where “Orpheus will once again see Eurydice in the sun and the stars.” (Boyden, 80) With libretto by Raniero da Calzabigi, Gluck keeps to the myth while making some revisions to the plot. (Boyden, 80) There are some differences between the work of Monteverdi and Gluck. While Monteverdi stretched his opera into five acts to accommodate the soloists and the lengths of their pieces, Gluck kept his opera more compact in order to give the plot more attention. The first scene of Orfeo ed Euridice opens with the nymphs and shepherds mourning Euridice’s death around her tomb. When Orfeo cries out to the heavens, he receives nothing, other than the echoes of his own voice. (Riding, Dunton-Downer, 98) In pure anger, Orfeo decides that he will travel to the underworld. Amore, the God of love, announces to Orfeo that the king of the underworld will allow him to search for his wife. On his own, Orfeo travels through the underworld, soothing the dark spirits with his music. (Riding, Dunton-Downer, 98) The second scene marks Orfeo’s descent into Hades where at this point, he is followed by the dark spirits. His music moves them to the point of opening the gates to the infernal region. (Riding, Dunton-Downer, 99) Upon the arrival of Orfeo, the dead Heroes and Heroines residing in the underworld return Euridice to him. Orfeo is then reminded of the fact that he is not allowed to turn around and look at Euridice if he wishes for her to return to earth with him. For the journey, he keeps his eyes drawn away, knowing that she would soon disappear if he looked back at her. (Riding, Dunton-Downer, 99) In the final scene, Orfeo leads Euridice back up through Hades, and is having an increasingly difficult time not paying attention to her. At last, When Orfeo is accused by Euridice of being a traitor, he turns around and Euridice’s body falls lifeless. (Riding, Dunton-Downer, 99) Though Orfeo wants nothing more than to die with her, Amore stops him. All of a sudden, Euridice is brought back to life. (Riding, Dunton-Downer, 99)Amore returns to earth with both Orfeo and Euridice, where everyone rejoices over the return of the two. (Riding, Dunton-Downer, 99) There are certain aspects that differ from the two productions of the myth of Orpheus. Monteverdi’s opera uses more of the mythology, but it is hard to see that since the singers are in complete control of the opera. Gluck’s opera does not list every single god in the sky and underworld, but puts more emphasis on the meaning of the story. Even though these are two big differences, the main idea is practically the same. Orfeo, the young shepherd, is a castrato and Euridice, his wife, is a soprano. Amore, the god of love, is also a soprano. There are now sopranos introduced into Classical operas because of the decrease of castrati, and the increasing popularity of female singers. Some other members of the opera include the nymphs, shepherds, furies, Heroes and Heroines, and the infernal spirits. These voices are all provided by the choir. There is no mention of Apollo being a character portrayed by the choir. Orfeo ed Euridice was presented to the public in Vienna, October 5, 1762. (Riding, Dunton-Downer, 99) This was to be performed for the celebration of Emperor Francis I at the Burgtheater. (Newman, 57) The premier was choreographed by Gasparo Angiolini and the set was designed by Giovanni Maria Quaglio. These two men were highly regarded at the time. (Boyden, 79) The original role of Orfeo was performed by a castrato, Gaetano Guadagni, Euridice by soprano Lucia Claverea, and Amore by soprano Marianna Bianchi. Though Orfeo was originally cast as a castrato, there were often contraltos and mezzo-sopranos given the part. In the 19th and 20th centuries, the role of Orfeo was a pants role, seeing as the number of castrati sharply declined. There is little record of the work’s reception, but it was said that the second performance was not until 1769. (Newman, 71) “The score of Orfeo sold very badly; in 1767, three years after its publication, only nine copies had been sold.” (Newman, 72) It was not until the French premier of the opera in 1774 that Gluck was given more recognition. (Newman, 72) The French libretto for Orfeo performed in France was by Pierre-Louis Moline; a direct translation from the Italian opera’s libretto. (Boyden, 79) The only difference from the Italian opera was that the French had a slight expansion on the text, more various elements of dance, and a high tenor set as Orfeo. (Boyden, 79) Before being performed in France, a performance was also held in 1770 in London. Though the same Orfeo was cast from the Italian opera, revisions were made to the music and some new pieces were added for the London performance. (Boyden, 79) The style was said to resemble Bach more than it did Gluck. (Riding, 98) Musical reformation took place during the early Classical period, beginning with composers Niccolo Jommelli (1714-1774) and Tommaso Traetta (1727-1779). (Hanning, 324) It was around this time that Gluck applied new methods of composition into his operas. He viewed both music and poetry as arts which should be combined equally. Gluck stated that his goal was to “confine music to its true function of serving the poetry by expressing feelings and the situations of the story without interrupting and cooling off the action through useless and superfluous ornaments.” (Hanning, 326) Prior to this movement, other opera composers had different views. There were rules about the music, placement of the characters, and the main focus was on the leading individual. Depending on the role of the character, they were given a specific number of pieces to perform, with more emphasis on the solo singing than the overall story. (Hanning, 324) While performing, only a specific number of people could be on sage at once. The first revision Gluck made was to the music itself. It was to be performed as composed, eliminating a vast amount of ornamentation and embellishments added by the singers. Now with more emphasis on the music, instrumentation became increasingly important, as did the use of a choir. The instruments were used to emphasize various scenes of the opera. The choir was introduced as characters in the story, as opposed to being the narrator. (Hanning, 324) Therefore, the choir expressed the emotions of the characters such as the shepherds, furies, and gods. (Riding, Dunton-Downer, 98) Examples no. 1 and no. 2 show excerpts from Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo and Gluck’s orfeo ed Euridice, giving examples of the contrast between the styles of the different musical periods. Example no. 1 is the choral madrigal, Ahi, caso acerbo, from Act II of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo. Prior to the choir’s entrance, Orfeo finishes one of his ariosos, typical of a leading role at this time. The only music written in the score is for the soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Though there is no notation listed, you can hear a harpsichord accompanying the choir as they sing in the recordings. The harpsichord was one of the only instruments used at the time. Instrumentation might have been increasing in popularity during the Baroque period, but composers such as Monteverdi, did not want the voice to be overshadowed. Marking the very end of the second scene, Orfeo has just lost Euridice and returns to earth alone. The choir then follows with Ahi, caso acerbo, translating to “ah, bitter event.” This line was taken from the messenger in a previous piece when he delivered the news of Euridice’s death. It is normal for the choir to repeat another character’s lines, seeing as most of what comes from the choir is either the narration of the opera or the moral of the scene. (Burkholder, Palisca, 419) The second musical example is an excerpt from Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, titled Ballo. By the first glance, there are already some big differences from the first work. The most apparent feature is the instrumentation. As opposed to two staves, Gluck’s scene from the second act includes not only string instruments, but brass, divided into multiple orchestras. The fact that all this powerful instrumentation is paired with the lead role of Orfeo Is much different than anything done before. Not only was Orfeo being accompanied by multiple orchestras, but the choir played a role in the opera. In this specific part of the opera, the choir represents the furies in Orfeo’s descent through hades. Ballo is set during the second act of Gluck’s opera. At this point in time, Orfeo has traveled to the underworld in search of Euridice, but is stopped by the furies. (Burkholder, Palisca, 51) The two groupings of orchestras are used in this scene to express the conversation. The oboes, horns, strings and harpsichord, later joined by the brass, make up the first orchestra emphasizing the furies. (Burkholder, 51) This orchestra is more so accompaniment to the choir, seeing as they sing the lines of the furies. Accompanied by harp, harpsichord and all other string instruments, the second orchestra represents Orfeo. (Burkholder, 51) The harp played in the second orchestra represents Orfeo plucking the strings of his lyre and playing his music to the furies. The furies dance in circles around Orfeo, trying to scare him. (Burkholder, 51) When Orfeo begins to sing, the harp carries the same rhythmic pattern, as though he were actually playing the lyre. This can be found in this second example and throughout the entire piece. Gluck uses techniques such as drastic dynamics, chromaticism, and dissonance to express the harshness of the furies. (Burkholder, 52) In measure 134, the choir and the orchestra enter with a forte marking, and reentering with fortes for the following measures. Another thin that made this piece different was the fact that a lot of the melodies were separated into four bar phrases. This was something that became a characteristic of Classical music, as opposed to the Baroque music in the first example. Though Gluck’s production of Orfeo was not successful until its premier in France and London, it still went on to become his most famous operatic work. There seems to be a greater appreciation for Gluck’s work now due to the fact that it is not as controversial to those listening now as opposed to those who listened to it around the time of the premier. But Gluck’s efforts paved the way for the operatic works of Mozart and many other composers to come.

Bibliography Boyden, M., The Rough Guide to Opera, London: Rough Guides Ltd, 2007. Burkholder, J.P., Palisca, C.V., Norton Anthology of Wester Music, Volume 1: Ancient to Baroque, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. Burkholder, J.P., Palisca, C.V., Norton Anthology of Wester Music, Volume 2: Classical to Twentieth Century, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006. Hanning, B.R., Concise History of Western Music, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. Howard, P., Gluck and the Birth of Modern Opera, London: Barrie & Rockliff, 1963. Newman, E., Gluck and the Opera, Great Britain: Lowe & Brydone, 1895.
Riding, A., Dunton-Downer, L., Opera, New York: Studio Cactus Ltd, 2006.…...

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