To hell and back: Met Opera tells a tale of love

Thursday, January 22, 2009

@SL_body_copy_ragged:On Saturday, the high-definition broadcast from the Metropolitan Opera will be Christoph Wilibald Gluck's opera "Orfeo ed Eurydice." The performance will begin at noon at the Town Plaza Cinema, and the encore broadcast will be at 7 p.m. Feb. 4.

"Orfeo ed Eurydice" was written as a festival piece to celebrate the name day of the Hapsburg Emperor Francis I. It premiered in October 1762. Gluck was a reformer in the world of opera. He wanted the music and the drama to go together and make sense. No more high-flying arias that had nothing to do with the story.

The opera begins after Eurydice has been bitten by a snake and died. Orfeo is grief-stricken and vows to go down to Hades and rescue his beloved wife. The god of love, Amor, appears to him and tells him that Jove will allow his descent into the underworld, but on one condition: Orfeo must not look back at Eurydice or explain to her why he can't do this. Orfeo agrees to these terms and begins his journey.

Act II takes place at the Gates of Hades. Furies and ghosts try to prevent Orfeo from entering the underworld, but his lament is so beautiful that they agree to let him in. The residents of Hades bring Eurydice to him, and they begin their ascent back to earth.

Act III is in a dark labyrinth. The lovers are making their way to the upper world, but Eurydice can't understand why her husband won't talk to her. Her frantic pleas cause him to look back at her and she immediately dies. Orfeo is beside himself with grief and despair. He is about to kill himself when Amor appears and stops him. The god of love brings Eurydice back to life and the couple, now reunited, returns to Earth.

In the original Greek myth, Eurydice is not brought back to life and Orfeo is condemned to wander the world alone, always playing his lyre. Finally a band of maenads seize him and tear him to pieces. The muses buried his limbs at the foot of Mount Olympus where, to this day, the nightingales sing more sweetly than anywhere else. Eighteenth-century audiences would not accept such a tragic ending, so Gluck and his librettist wrote the happy reunion that ends the opera.

Barb Herbert of Cape Girardeau is an opera lover and host of Southeast Public Radio's "Sunday Night at the Opera."

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