Gluck: Orfeo/Drottningholm

Review by: Dan Davis

Artistic Quality: 5

Sound Quality: 7

This is the 1762 Vienna version of Orfeo ed Euridice, taken from live performances at the Drottningholm Theatre and led by Arnold Östman, whose recorded Mozart operas with period instruments caused such a stir in the early days of the historical-performance movement. However, as that trend matured, standards escalated–and on evidence of this Orfeo, Drottningholm’s have slipped badly. Not that there’s anything that can be labeled downright bad–except perhaps some truly atrocious exposed wind playing in the accompaniments to Orfeo’s big scenes (particularly damaging where it counts most). Attendance at the performances from which this recording was made may well have been pleasurable; the resulting CD is merely acceptable. And if “acceptable” is what you want from a budget disc whose booklet actually includes full texts and translations, go for it.

But you’ll have to put up with tempos that substitute speed for drama, orchestral playing that often harkens back to a rougher era of period-instrument bands, and singing that doesn’t rise above the routine. Ann-Christine Biel is overmatched in the role of Orfeo. “Adequate” is the operative word to describe a performance that’s obviously committed and adheres to professional standards but is marred by a voice that lacks quality and suffers from a colorless bottom, stifled midrange, and high notes that can only be called “comfortable”–that is, unstrained but never exciting. Biel’s colleagues, freed from having to invade the mezzo vocal range, sound more at home but rarely transcend the routine. Maya Boog comes closest to bringing her character to life (no pun intended), draining color from the voice at her first entrance as Euridice awakes from the dead and suggesting real panic when Orfeo refuses to embrace her. But, as Rene Jacobs demonstrates in his Harmonia Mundi recording, there’s a lot more drama, expressiveness, and musical insight in this opera than meets the ear here. The chorus is fine; the engineering, like the performance, adequate.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Jacobs (HM)


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