[Met Performance] CID:124060

New Production

Orfeo ed Euridice
Metropolitan Opera House, Sat, November 26, 1938 Matinee Broadcast

Debut : Felia Dubrovska, Grant Mouradoff, Harry Horner, Frank Bevan

Orfeo ed Euridice (40)
Christoph Willibald Gluck | Ranieri de' Calzabigi
Kerstin Thorborg

Irene Jessner

Marisa Morel

Happy Shade
Marita Farell

Felia Dubrovska [Debut]

Grant Mouradoff [Debut]

Artur Bodanzky

Herbert Graf

Set Designer
Harry Horner [Debut]

Costume Designer
Frank Bevan [Debut]

Boris Romanoff

Orfeo ed Euridice received five performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Lawrence Gilman in the Herald Tribune

Gluck's "Orfeo" Revived With Kerstin Thorborg at the Metropolitan

Every opera-goer of taste and experience will be grateful to the Metropolitan for reviving Gluck's "Orfeo" in so lofty, reverent and recreative a performance as that which we heard on Saturday afternoon. For "Orfeo," one of the oldest operas in the active list, remains a vital and compelling masterpiece. It is as moving and beautiful and dramatic today as it evidently was for its hearers in Europe before the United States became a nation, when the letters and journals of the time were filled with eulogies of Gluck's new work.

The shrewd English critic of a century ago, Henry Chorley, who can still be read with pleasure and profit, said of "Orfeo" that "there is no other opera in the world's long list which, with merely three female voices and a chorus, can return to the stage in days like ours, to make the heart throb and the eyes water."

We have moved along a bit since Chorley's day, but what he wrote of "Orfeo" in the youthful Queen Victoria's time is true of it now. It was, and is, an astonishing feat that Gluck accomplished in this opera; and even if one must mention the orchestra and a fourth singer as additions to what Chorley called its "merely three female voices and a chorus" it is still astonishing. The effect of the poignant and simple drama as it comes to us through the power and pathos and nobility of Gluck's transforming imagination, is irresistible.

It was almost a century and three-quarters ago that Gluck lost patience with the inanities of Italian opera of his time. At Vienna, shortly before 1762, he might well have echoed this remark of Gretry about the opera at Rome in those days: "When anybody went there," wrote Gretry, "it was to hear this or that singer; but when the latter was no longer on the stage, every one yawned or retired to his box to play cards and eat ices."

Gluck perceived that the first step in the reform which seemed to him imperative was the choice of a libretto capable of interesting a reasonably adult mind. From the first he had had vague leanings toward the ideal of making opera a more dramatic and unified art-form. Even in his first opera, "Artasserse" written twenty-one years before "Oreo" he had dared to be dramatic. It was long, however, before he succeeded in working out a definite and practicable formula. Yet what he did even in his works prior to "Orfeo" was not enough to provoke the wrath of the critics, who, as esthetic policemen, have always attempted to enforce the established traffic rules of creative art.

Gluck's chief purpose was the attainment of dramatic truth and musical expressiveness. He was honestly determined to make his music as faithful a reflection of the drama as it was within his power to do; and, despite the binding influences upon him of certain conventions of his time, he succeeded: and "Orfeo" emerges to the observation of our day as a genuine and effective music-drama.

The completed work, "Orfeo ed Euridice," was brought out at the Vienna Burgtheater on October 5, 1762; and that performance has been described as "the first cannon-shot of the new operatic Revolution." The premiere, as might have been expected, aroused some opposition, and opened very wide the eyes of the Viennese. But the antagonism subsided, and by the time the work reached its fifth performance its place was definitely assured. It conquered the public even in Italy.

It would be gratifying to have it conquer the public here and now. It has done so before. When it was revived at the Metropolitan in December, 1909, with Toscanini conducting and Louise Homer as Orfeo, the work stayed in the repertoire for five seasons.

The present revival has much that is persuasive and admirable. The Orfeo is Kerstin Thorborg; and Mme. Thorborg is one of the most gifted singer-actresses of our time. She is an affecting and nobly tragic figure as she descends into the spirit's darkness and desolation, and finds her way again into light and brief despair and final happiness. It may be doubted if Mme. Thorborg has ever achieved here any lovelier singing than she gave us in the air, "Che puro ciel," delivered in the scene of the Elysian Fields, where the magical beauty and serenity of Gluck's imagined landscape has been caught up into the song, and into the entrancing melody of the oboe that introduces it - that ravishing evocation of quivering light and the stirring of soft airs and the flowing of quiet streams in some unimaginable country of the dreaming mind.

Miss Irene Jessner's Euridice is perhaps a bit corporeal for an inhabitant of a land of spirits. Miss Marita Farell as the Blessed Shade (the role once sung by the lamented Alma Gluck) was nearer the visual ideal which is generally held as appropriate to the denizens of Elysium. It must be admitted, however, that some authorities impute to those happy shades an indulgence in continual flaunting and revelry. So let Miss Jessner sing triumphantly to Lempriere, if she will; nevertheless, the popular mind is probably convinced that the silhouettes of the virtuous remain sylph-like after death.

Mr. Bodanzky, who was enthusiastically welcomed on his return to the Metropolitan's activities, was in his element as musical director of the performance. He had conducted the work in concert form with the Society of the Friends of Music in 1925, '27 and '29. Obviously he loves the music, and feels deeply its special quality of luminous beauty and dramatic power.

Barring an oddly wintry set for the scene in the Elysian Fields, the mounting of the production, its direction by Dr. Graf, and the choreography devised by Boris Romanoff were, on the whole, in the vein of the loftily dramatic masterwork.

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