Christoph Willibald GLUCK
Risë Stevens (Orfeo),
Lisa Della Casa (Euridice), Roberta Peters (Amore), Rome Opera Chorus and
BMG 09026 63534 2 [2
discs 76.45 + 53.36] Recorded in
Though recorded in Rome this is basically the Metropolitan Orfeo of
the mid-fifties. Monteux was by then almost as old as the three principals
put together yet it is his contribution which is likely to seem least dated
to modern ears. Textures are kept light, but with strength where needed (the
Overture sounds less pointless than usual) and the music is always kept moving
forward. The edition used is a hybrid one, as it always was in those days,
but it makes dramatic sense.
The drawback is Risë Stevens' Orfeo. Her voice is firmly and steadily
produced (I'll give her that much), with massive recourse to chest tones,
not just below middle C but from about E downwards (a mezzo shouldn't need
to do this, surely?) and LOUD. I find only the most generalised involvement
with Orfeo's plight, resulting in almost unrelieved hectoring. The Furies
are not so much tamed as shouted down, reviving fond memories of the halcyon
days of Mrs. Thatcher at Westminster. Che farò appears less
a personal statement than a funeral oration in the grand manner.
Roberta Peters' Amore seems to take its tone from the Orfeo. Lisa Della Casa
was a lovely artist but, perhaps because of the context in which she found
herself, doesn't quite have the statuesque dignity of the real Gluck singer.
Still, listen to the last track when Orfeo, Amore and Euridice sing a stanza
each and you'll hear what vocal class means.
The orchestra is not always precise but plays attractively. The choir is
good of its kind. Italian choirs in those days were trained to sing with
a beefy vibrato (some still are) which was OK for Verdi and precious little
else, and wouldn't change it for anyone. The recording, one or two passing
moments of distortion apart, has come up very well, the original note has
been retained as an example of American period hype with a good synopsis
and translations into French and German. The Italian libretto is given, but
with an English translation only.
Monteux completists will want to hear this (with a full complement of dances
and ballet music, the orchestra has quite a lot on its own) but was he able
to give the interpretation he really wanted? Listen to the powerfully
forward-moving start of Che farò, with an unusual emphasis
on the chugging quavers which promises an interesting performance. Enter
Miss Stevens and the tempo is slowed down drastically. That Monteux did not
see fit to correct this anomaly by re-recording the introduction at the speed
of the aria itself suggests he preferred to leave to posterity his own private
So in the end, unless you want a taste of how Mrs. Thatcher might have sung
if she had been able to, leave well alone.