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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, September 5 2014 - Volume 42 Issue 36
Gluck's Orfeo with Bejun Mehta a delectable feast, well worth attention
Arts & Entertainment
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Gluck's Orfeo with Bejun Mehta a delectable feast, well worth attention

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E Writer

BEJUN MEHTA
IN GLUCK'S
ORFEO ED EURIDICE
on DVD and Blu-Ray


Bejun Mehta is not only on screen almost every minute of this opera; he is also listed as 'Artistic Advisor' for this film version of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice. If you're not familiar with this fine artist, he is one of the world's finest countertenors, as gifted an actor as a singer. My husband and I saw him many years ago in Los Angeles as one of the THREE Gay countertenors in LA Opera's superb production of Handel's Julius Caesar. While his tone is not as plush as David Daniels', his coloratura is the more impressive of the two.

This DVD (also available as a Blu-ray disc) is not a live performance before an audience; it is a film of a mostly-on-stage performance, but one that leaves the stage for the 'Underworld' portions of Orfeo's journey to recover his wife Euridice. Herein lies one of the interesting virtues of this presentation: the staged portions take place in the baroque theatre of Cesk? Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic, and the 'Netherworld' sections utilize the cavernous stairways and passages under the Castle. The charms of this theatre are captivating, especially because the sets, costumes, etc. are mostly of the period when the stage was created, some 250 years ago, about the time of the opera's composition. The colors (supremely lit by an unlisted lighting engineer) constantly amaze in their lovely warmth and in the support they lend to the emotion of each scene. Filming took place with the behind-the-scenes presence of the fire brigade, who were there to protect the historic building from the many firebowls flickering around the stage apron and candles glowing in the wings. It appears these light sources are the cause of the extraordinary ambience and colors. (The historic stage is equipped with the original working stage equipment and machinery.)

The small period orchestra (Collegium 1704) is arranged in front of the stage but in two rows facing the conductor, Václav Luks, who is off to the left side of the pit. All the players and conductor are bewigged and in period costume. Their flawless sound is captured very well, in perfect balance with the singers and the chorus (Collegium Vocale 1704). They play mostly without vibrato, and the horns have a charming nasality. The musical values leave nothing to be desired.

The attractive singers besides Mehta are soprano Eva Liebau as Euridice and soprano Regula Mühlemann, both of whom sing with beautiful tone and dramatic (and sometimes comic) effect. The whole drama is framed by scenes of Orfeo first entering from his godly realm the baroque world of this stylized show and then, most interestingly, at the joyous finale, leaving Euridice, unchanging, up on the stage as he walks off, the god Orpheus, going off to further adventures, unbound by the strict conventions of baroque tradition and this single episode in his larger life. This gentle 'concept' in no way damages the opera itself; instead it puts a nice frame around the baroque drama.

There are other excellent productions of this opera available for viewing, but the setting and overall excellence of this one, staged to mark the 300th anniversary of Gluck's birth, make it a delectable feast, well worth attention.

Reviewer Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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