Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Friday, August 2

Gluck and Glass in the Underworld

Synopsis

In Greek mythology, Orpheus was a priest of Apollo and a fabulous musician, who attempted to bring his dead wife Eurydice back from the underworld.

On this day in 1774, in Paris, the first performance of the French version of the opera “Orpheus and Eurydice” by Christoph Willibald Gluck took place. Gluck originally wrote the opera in Italian, but for the French version in 1774, he added some new instrumental music, including a serene interlude depicting the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits” —an excerpt that has become one of Gluck’s most famous and best-loved works.

Over the centuries, more than 60 operas have been written on the theme of Orpheus and Eurydice. In fact, two of the very FIRST operas ever written are based on this legend, both by Italian composers of the late Renaissance: one by Jacopo Peri performed in 1600 and another by Claudio Monteverdi from 1607.

One of the more recent operas based on the Orpheus legend is by the American composer Philip Glass, based on a libretto he adapted from the 1950 movie, “Orpheus,” by the surrealistic French poet and film director Jean Cocteau. The American Repertory Theatre and the Brooklyn Academy of Music commissioned Glass’s version in 1993.

Music Played in Today's Program

Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) Dance of the Blessed Spirits, fr Orphée Academy of Ancient Music; Christopher Hogwood, cond. L'oiseau Lyre 410 553

Philip Glass (b.1937) Act 2 Interlude, fr Orphée Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra; Dennis Russell Davies, cond. Nonesuch 79496-2

Additional Information

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