Bad kissingen: how a new opera can do mourning work

There was a rough tension in the air of the rossini hall. For the premiere of a composition commissioned by the kissinger sommers (something that had never happened before outside the liederwerkstatt) was imminent: christoph willibald gluck’s "orfeo ed euridice in a new version by damian scholl.

Was it necessary? No and yes. No, because the opera has survived the last 257 years well and will continue to do so. Yes, if you want to get the opera out of the historical preservation to use it in the here and now. Because if you tell the story of the singer orpheus, who descends into hades to bring his beloved euridice from death back to life, fails because of the strict rules, but thanks to cupid’s intervention gets his beloved back, then in antiquity it fell into the realm of allegory, today it falls into the realm of mourning work.

What did damian scholl do? He has first of all deleted eurydike, amor and the chorus – it has been replaced by four wind players – which in any case have no rough textual parts and focused the inner plot entirely on orpheus and overall shortened the opera somewhat. What remains of gluck are recitatives and arias that allow a glimpse into the inner life of orpheus, that make a psychogram possible. And he has made it more accessible with his "orfeo reflections" combined into a highly exciting collage of sound and noise, partly also mixed, and thus made it possible to experience orpheus’ difficult path no longer into hades, but into total despair. In this way he has not damaged gluck, but intensified it. In the process, fascinating, highly modern, purposeful and therefore comprehensible sound images were created, also and especially in the reverence for and blending with the old music.

A real challenge for the musicians. The mezzo-soprano lena belkina sang the role of orpheus with a great timbre and stunning expressiveness. The harpist lucie delhaye illuminated, partly with electronic help, the background of orpheus’ musical revisions with the lyre.Under the sober and therefore effective direction of andrea sanguineti, a 15-piece ensemble of strings and wind instruments played with great concentration for almost two hours – their difficult voices strongly focused on effects, the melody only existed in gluck. And damian scholl controlled the noise recordings from behind the scenes.

In damian scholl the story does not have an immediate, but a delayed happy end outside or after the opera. With him, orpheus does not get the beloved back. The famous aria "che farò senza euridice", the one that gets gluck orpheus going in the first place is the one that damian scholl put at the end. And it gets slower and slower, quieter and quieter, more and more distant. At the end orpheus has let go, returns to the reality of the present noise. What can mourning achieve more? At the end there was a standing ovation – with new music!