Orfeo: Anicio Zorzi (Orfeo); Roberta Memeli (Euridice/La Musica); Marina de Liso (La Messigiera/Speranza); Gioria Milanesi (Proserpina/Ninfa); Ugo Guagliardo (Plutone/Apollo); Salvo Vitale (Caronte)
Orfeo ed Euridice: Katerina Kaméus (Orfeo); Kerstin Avemo (Euridice); Mia Karlsson (Amore)
Story: Monteverdi's 'Orfeo'
The opera's first two acts are both set in the fields of Thrace. In ACT ONE, Orfeo and Euridice are married in a raucous celebration that includes a chorus of shepherds and nymphs.
But as ACT TWO begins, things turn dark. Orfeo is near the woods, with friends, when a messenger brings bad news. Euridice has been bitten by a poisonous snake and is dead. The exchange between the dumbfounded Orfeo and Silvia, the messenger, is an extraordinary musical sequence with wildly contrasting harmonies, portraying Orfeo's refusal to accept reality. His denial is so absolute that as Act Two ends he decides to travel down into the underworld to confront the forces of hell and bring Euridice back.
In ACT THREE, Orfeo ventures into the underworld. At first, he is accompanied by the character representing Hope. But when they reach the gates of the underworld, and find a sign with the famous words, "Abandon hope all ye who enter," Hope quickly skedaddles, leaving Orfeo to his own devices.
The gates are also guarded by an intimidating character called Caronte. Orfeo appeals to him in one of the opera's most extraordinary and emotional musical numbers called "Possente spirto" -- "Powerful spirit." Orfeo's plaintive lines are echoed by instruments and his pleas are interrupted by longer instrumental passages that reinforce his desperation. Caronte is unmoved, but the music eventually lulls him to sleep, and Orfeo slips past.
As ACT FOUR begins, Orfeo confronts Plutone, Lord of the Underworld. Plutone hesitates to release Euridice, but with some extra persuasion from Plutone's consort, Proserpina, Orfeo wins the day. Plutone says that Orfeo can have Euridice -- but only if he leads her out of the underworld without turning back to look at her. Orfeo agrees, but his love is too strong. On their way home Orfeo turns, sees Euridice, and loses her again -- this time forever.
Back in Thrace for ACT FIVE, Orfeo is despondent. His lament is one of the opera's most beautiful passages, with a distant echo repeating his phrases, as though in sympathy. The tension is broken when the god Apollo appears. He offers to take Orfeo into heaven, where he can join Euridice among the stars. The shepherds and nymphs do a dance of celebration while Apollo and Orfeo ascend, magically, into the clouds.
Story:Gluck's 'Orfeo ed Euridice'
Gluck's opera sticks fairly close to the ancient myth -- except for the ending. As the action begins, Orfeo is grieving at the tomb of his wife, Euridice. She was killed, according to the legend, by a poisonous snake. Nymphs and shepherds sing a mournful chorus, and Orfeo voices his grief in a powerfully expressive aria.
Defying fate, Orfeo decides to bring Euridice back from the dead, and before long he gets his chance -- when Love appears on the scene, as the character Amor. Amor sympathizes with Orfeo, and agrees to assist in his dangerous attempt to rescue Euridice from the underworld. But there's one catch. Orfeo must promise that as he's bringing Euridice home, he won't look at her. And if she wonders what's going on, he's forbidden from telling her why. After thinking it over, Orfeo agrees to the terms.
Before long, he finds out exactly what stands in his way. First, there's a terrifying chorus of Furies, warning him about even more threats ahead. At the gates of Hades, he also confronts the hellish, three-headed watchdog Cerberus.
Orfeo, by playing his lute and singing, manages to calm both Cerberus and the Furies, and he arrives in Elysium, where Euridice is brought to him. He's now free to take her home, mindful of his pledge: He's forbidden from looking at her. So, with his eyes averted, Orfeo takes her hand and leads Euridice away.
At this point, you'd think they'd both be deliriously happy. Euridice had been dead, after all! But instead, Euridice is more than a little annoyed. Orfeo has resisted temptation and stubbornly refuses to look at her. Naturally, she wants to know the reason for this seemingly unfeeling behavior. Orfeo refuses to explain. Finally, she decides that the human world must have passed her by while she was gone, and that death might have been better all along.
That's too much for Orfeo. He breaks down, and turns to look at his wife. Euridice immediately dies again, and Orfeo is right back where he was when the opera began: alone, and griefstricken. He sings the heartbreaking aria "Che farò senza Euridice?" -- "What shall I do without Euridice?"
Then, as Orfeo reaches his lowest moment and prepares to stab himself, Amor returns to the scene. At this point, Gluck's opera departs from the original Orpheus myth -- which ends with Orpheus dead and dismembered, at the hands of the vengeful Bacchantes. In Gluck's version of the story, Amor prevents Orfeo from killing himself, then brings Euridice back to life, and the opera ends with a joyful dance and chorus.