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Orpheus and Eurydice

Gluck‘s elegant eighteenth-century account of the Orpheus myth is filled with sublime melodies and numerous dance episodes.

The gods agree to let Orpheus rescue his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld, but there is a catch. To be together again, he must lead her out without turning to look back at her or explain the reason why, or she will be lost from him forever.

ENO Performance History

2019/20 season

Book

Read the introductory guide to Orpheus and Eurydice

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Synopsis

Act I

Eurydice (Eurydike) is dead. The mourners depart and the bereaved Orpheus (Orfeos) 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.

Love (Eros) appears and tells Eurydice that he has permission to enter the forbidden kingdom of the dead. If he uses the power of music to placate the Underworld’s inhabitants, Eurydice and he will be united once more. However, a condition is imposed: Orpheus must not look at his wife until they have returned to the surface; otherwise, she will be lost to him forever. He foresees Eurydice’s anxiety and distress at such behaviour at their reunion. He prepares himself for his journey.

Act II

Orpheus stands on the forbidding threshold of the Underworld. His sublime singing beguiles those dispossessed beings he meets and eventually they allow him to continue on his way.

Act III

Eurydice and the other Blessed Spirits are seen in the tranquil haven of the Elysian Fields. Orpheus marvels at the radiant, other-worldly calm of the surroundings. Eurydice is restored to him, but he is careful not to look at her.

Act IV

As they make their return from the Underworld, Orpheus urges Eurydice to hurry up and follow him. She cannot comprehend his uncharacteristically impatient behaviour, and rebukes him for his apparent indifference to her. Feeling weak from the demands of the journey and convinced Orpheus no longer loves her, Eurydice is close to collapsing. Orpheus succumbs to temptation, turns to look at her and she dies immediately. He inveighs against such cruelty, acknowledges it is his fault, and laments once again the death of his beloved wife.

Inconsolable at his irrecoverable loss, Orpheus prepares to kill himself. He is interrupted by Love, who declares that Orpheus has shown more than enough proof of his fidelity and that Eurydice will be restored to him at once. Together with their friends, Orpheus and Eurydice celebrate their reunion and the power of love.