1. When Gluck composed Orfeo & Euridice in 1762, he was striving to do something very new with opera as an art form. the style of the day was plot-heavy, melodramatic opera seria. Gluck instead wanted to develop a new style that would harken back to the “purer” spirit of ancient Greek drama. Rather than rely on ornate flourishes, Gluck strove to achieve an elegantly fluid style that would be all the more evocative for its simplicity. This would allow the music to truly shine as the most important element. He accomplished that, and more! To this day, Orfeo & Euridice remains his most popular work.
Try it for yourself with this video recording of Orfeo’s lament aria, “Che farò senza Euridice” (“What will I do without Euridice”).
2. Although Gluck was eager to “reform” opera from the traditional Baroque style, he actually idolized Handel — perhaps the most famous operatic composer of that era. When he was just a youth, Gluck met Handel in London. The older Handel had come there to compose for the Haymarket Theatre, a “hot spot” for new operas of the day. The two became close friends, and Gluck actually hung Handel’s portrait in his bedroom so that he could see his favorite composer first thing every morning.
3. The story of the shepherd Orfeo has been adapted for the operatic canon many times, but Gluck was not the first to set it to music. Claudio Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which was first performed in 1607, is widely acknowledged as one of the very first works in the operatic genre! It is also generally recognized as the earliest operatic work in existence that is still regularly performed today. Given that roughly 150 years passed between Monteverdi’s and Gluck’s renditions of the myth, it is not surprising that the music might sound a little different.
Watch an excerpt of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo by clicking below.
4. In OTSL’s 2018 production, the title role of Orfeo will be sung by none other than Jennifer Johnson Cano. This renowned mezzo-soprano hails from St. Louis, and actually participated in OTSL’s Spring Training Vocal Camp for high school students. She then returned to Opera Theatre as a Gerdine Young Artist in 2006 and 2007. She has since sung at the Metropolitan Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, and the New York Philharmonic, just to name a few. We look forward to St. Louis celebrating such an extraordinary homegrown star when she makes her principal role debut.
5. Euridice, Orfeo’s beloved, will be played by soprano Andriana Chuchman. Audiences will remember Andriana from her “intelligent…bravura” (The New York Times) performance as Boonyi and India in Shalimar the Clown (2016). Since her last appearance at OTSL, Andriana has performed across the country at companies such as Houston Grand Opera, San Diego Opera, Washington National Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago. We are also excited to share that she will make her Metropolitan Opera debut as Valencienne in The Merry Widow this winter. During her run at the Met, she’ll be starring opposite none other than opera legend Susan Graham – who also joins us at OTSL this year for the title role in Regina.