Orpheus and Eurydice synopsis
Music by Christoph Willibald Gluck
Libretto by Ranieri de’Calzabigi
First performed: 1762
Eurydice is dead. The mourners depart and the bereaved Orpheus is left to call to his wife, but only an echo answers him. He can take no more, and grief gives way to anger. He resolves to journey to the Underworld and reclaim Eurydice from the dead.
Amor appears. Orpheus has permission to enter the forbidden region of the dead; if he can placate its inhabitants with his singing, Eurydice and he will be united once more. However, a condition is imposed: Orpheus must not look at his wife until they have returned, otherwise she will be lost to him for ever; moreover, he cannot tell her of this prohibition. Orpheus foresees Eurydice’s distress at his behaviour at their reunion.
Orpheus stands on the forbidding threshold of the Underworld. But his sublime singing is soothing to those dispossessed beings he meets on his journey. Eventually they allow him to continue on his journey.
Orpheus marvels at the radiant, other-worldly calm of the surroundings. Eurydice is restored to him and he is careful not to look at her.
Orpheus urges Eurydice to hurry up and follow him. She cannot comprehend his unusual and impatient behaviour, and rebukes him for his apparent indifference to her. Eurydice is close to fainting; Orpheus succumbs, turns to look at her and she dies immediately. Orpheus inveighs against such cruelty and laments once again the death of his beloved wife.
Inconsolable at his unrecoverable loss, Orpheus prepares to kill himself. He is interrupted by Amor, who declares that Orpheus has given enough proof of his fidelity and that Eurydice will be restored to life immediately.
Orpheus, Eurydice and Amor celebrate, along with their companions and followers, the couple’s return.
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