[Met Performance] CID:168080

Orfeo ed Euridice
Metropolitan Opera House, Thu, February 24, 1955

Orfeo ed Euridice received five performances this season.

Review 1:

Review of Ronald Eyer in Musical America

The oldest opera in the repertoire, Gluck's "Orfeo ed Euridice," last heard at the Metropolitan in the 1941-42 season, was revived on Feb. 24 with the Harry Horner sets dating from 1938 and new costumes designed by Frank Bevan. Rise Stevens and Hilde Gueden sang the title roles: Roberta Peters was the Amore; Laurel Hurley, Un' Ombra Felice, and Alicia Markova, the premiere danseuse. The work was staged by Herbert Graf; Pierre Monteux conducted, and Zachary Solov devised the choreography.

First given in the United States in 1863 at the Winter Garden (and in English, by the way), the 193-year-old work has had a way of coming to life periodically after long sleeps, each of which might have seemed the final one so far as the professional theater is concerned. At the Metropolitan, "Orfeo" was in the repertoire three seasons in rapid succession between 1891 and 1896. Then it drowsed until 1909, when it reappeared for one season. Thereafter came the longest hiatus of all, lasting until 1935, when a flurry of interest gave it a place in the seasons of 1935-36, 1938-40 and 1941-42. Then silence again until the present production.

Vital, Dramatic Work

The implication may be that "Orfeo" is a museum piece brought out from time to time merely for curiosity's sake. It is that, of course, but it is also much more. It is a vital dramatic work built upon a lovely old legend; it is beautiful upon the stage, particularly during the ballet episodes, and, of course, it has much great and enduring music, of which the famous "Che faro" is the only one facet. The duet and the trio of the last act are of a timeless beauty, and the choruses, notably the "No!" chorus of the Furies, are still powerful theater and must have been spine-tingling in Vienna in 1762.

Some of the early productions must have been substantially foreshortened for, in 1891, "Orfeo" was given in tandem with the first Metropolitan performance of Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana;" later it was paired with "Pagliacci," and still later with Massenet's "La "Navarraise"! The most distinguished revival probably was that of 1909-10 under Arturo Toscanini with Louise Homer, Johanna Gadski, Bella Alten and Alma Gluck, which was praised in glowing terms by writers of the period.

Nobody living today can know in precisely what style Gluck intended this opera to be performed. We know that it is supposed to be the work in which the composer broke with the rigid sophistries of the past and set out upon the path of a "reform" that was to lead to the door of Richard Wagner. We know that, for its Paris performances at least, great stress probably was laid upon the ballet and the decor and that Gluck there made Orfeo a tenor instead of an alto. We know too that the music is completely transparent and pure of line and, since there are only four protagonists and all of them are women, the very finest of voices is required - voices that are warm, consistently felicitous in quality, capable of wide coloristic variation and, above all, perfectly schooled technically. Anything less must stick out like the proverbial sore thumb and turn the opera into an interminable bore.

These requirements are pretty largely met on the present occasion. Of all, Hilde Gueden was perhaps best suited to her role. Her Euridice was a lovely, delicate, sweet-voiced maiden. Laurel Hurley, too, was pretty and opulent of voice as the spirit. Roberta Peters sang Amore with complete vocal aplomb and superb tone, but she should have been directed in more graceful movements and provided with a more flattering costume. As Orfeo, Rise Stevens was returning to a role that I imagine was the first she ever sang publicly - in a student production at the Juilliard School of Music when Miss Stevens and this reviewer were much younger in their respective professions.

She was handsome and completely convincing histrionically in the masculine part then as she is now. This time, however, it seemed to me that too many of her notes lay too low for full-bodied production, and consequently there was a want of color and thrust in the darker phrases of the first act. The last act was a different matter, however, and her "Che faro" and the duet were vociferously applauded.

The ballet was not an invariable delight. Alicia Markova ornamented the scene of the Elysian Fields with dancing in free style in which she was the floating, chaste delight she always has been. The scene of the Furies, conceived as a serpentine writing of white arms against black costumes and a darkened stage, achieved a certain pictorial effectiveness, but the grand ballet in the final scene in the Palace of Love reverted suddenly to classic ballet figures, which were insecurely executed and at odds with the character of the production as a whole.

The chorus had been painstakingly prepared by Kurt Adler and sang with prevailing good tone, intonation and precision. Pierre Monteux conducted ably, but one did not feel that he was as completely sympathetic to the style of this music as he has been to that of other eras.

Photograph of Risë Stevens in Orfeo ed Euridice by Bender.

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