Gluck's 300th anniversary
Christoph Willibald Gluck composed a special version of his Orfeo for Empress Maria Theresia. This “Parma version” is now appearing in print for the first time.
In 1768 the 54-year-old Gluck was asked for the last time by Empress Maria Theresia to provide a specially-composed stage work for a family celebration. The occasion was the wedding of her daughter, the Archduchess Maria Amalia, to the Infante Ferdinand of Spain in Parma the following year. Gluck accepted the commission and composed Le feste d’Apollo, a work comprising several one-act sections which made allegorical references to the wedding celebrations. An opening Prologue is followed by three thematically independent acts, pastoral in character, the Atto di Bauci e Filemone, Atto d’Aristeo and the concluding Atto d’Orfeo. However, the four-part celebratory opera was not performed in its entirety during the wedding celebrations. On the evening of the first performance, 24 August 1769, the day of Maria Amalia and Ferdinand’s entry into Parma, just the Atto d’Orfeo featured on the programme. This was a new version of Gluck’s azione teatrale per musica in three acts, Orfeo ed Euridice, which had been premiered in 1762 in Vienna. With this work Gluck had laid the foundations of his opera reforms and today, Orfeo, which Gluck reworked one further time in 1774 for Paris, remains one of his best-known works.
Even though Gluck re-used the original Vienna version for the celebratory opera in Parma (except for the final ballet and without the division into acts), he had to adapt the work to suit local conditions. For in Parma, he not only had singers with different vocal ranges, but also an orchestra with different instruments. The most crucial change which Gluck had to make was the transposition of the title role. Whilst Orfeo was sung in Vienna by Gaetano Guadagni, the star alto castrato of the day, in Parma this role was sung by the equally well-known soprano castrato Giuseppe Millico. His higher vocal range meant that the Orfeo’s arias and recitatives had to be transposed up: instead of the range of a to e’’ in the Vienna version, the vocal range in the Parma version is from d’ to a’’. For example, because of the transposition, Orfeo’s aria “Che farò” in the soprano version is in E flat major instead of C major. For Millico, Gluck also provided Orfeo’s aria “Deh placatevi con me” with a short coloratura section towards the end. Apart from that, the orchestral writing had to be adapted for the orchestra in Parma, which had fewer wind instruments. There, there were no cornetts, trombones, chalumeaux or cor anglais; the instruments available were two flutes, two oboes, three bassoons, two horns and two trumpets. In Orfeo’s aria “Piango il mio ben così”, the cor anglais are therefore missing and the chalumeau part in the echo is replaced by the flute. In the mourning chorus “Ah, se intorno” in the first scene, oboes and horns are used instead of the missing cornetts and trombones. Another crucial change in the Parma version is the transposition of the chorus repetition from C minor to D minor; with this, the relationships of the C minor key used in the Vienna version are abandoned. Thanks to a list of paid players, we know that in addition to wind players, the orchestra in Parma comprised ten violins, four violas, a cello and three double basses, and a kettledrum. Even though there is no explicit mention of a harp, it is conceivable that a member of the royal family played the harp or that a harpsichord was used instead.
The music for the entire festive opera, that is the full score and parts, was never published and has only survived in contemporary manuscripts. A scholarly-critical edition of the opera is currently being prepared as part of the Gluck Complete Works edition. In time for the Gluck anniversary year in 2014, a full score and parts of Atto d’Orfeo are available in a pre-publication version, so that the soprano version of the work can be heard again for the first time in the 245 years since its premiere.
Gabriele Buschmeier(from [t]akte 2/2013]