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Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681 - 1767): Orpheus oder Die wunderbare Beständigkeit der Liebe (TWV 21,18)

Marelize Gerber (Cephisa), Ulrike Hofbauer (Eurydice), Barbara Kraus (Ismene), Dorothee Mields (Orasia), soprano; Julie Comparini (Ascalax), contralto; Christian Zenker (Eurimedes), tenor; Markus Volpert (Orpheus), baritone; Reinhard Mayr (Pluto), bass
L'Orfeo Barockorchester
Dir: Michi Gaigg

rec: August 8 - 12, 2010, Strudengau (A), Stift Waldhausen
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88697805972 (2 CDs) (© 2011) (2.02'40")
Liner notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E

When in 1678 the Oper am Gänsemarkt was founded Hamburg soon developed into one of the main centres of opera in Germany. After the turn of the century the opera was increasingly facing financial difficulties. Therefore the appointment of Georg Philipp Telemann as Musikdirektor of the city came as a blessing, as he was expected to bring new life into the opera business. Until 1736 he composed no less than 20 operas in which he met the preferences of the Hamburg opera lovers by concentrating on comedies, and including a comic story line into his tragedies. The successes of his operas didn't prevent the theatre from facing financial problems once again in the mid-1720s. As a result his opera Orpheus, oder Die wunderbare Beständigkeit der Liebe was performed at the opera but not staged. The opera was used for concerts, but a concertante performance of an opera was quite unusual. The first staged performance took place in 1728 in Karlsruhe, and in Hamburg it was performed in 1736, with some alterations, and under a new title.

The libretto was by an unknown author, based upon Orphée by the French poet Michel du Boulay which was set to music by Louis Lully, the eldest son of Jean-Baptiste Lully. The plot is somewhat different from what we find in other operas about the Orpheus myth. It is Orasia, the widowed queen of Thrace, who out of jealousy becomes the murderess of Euridice, and as her love is spurned by Orpheus, she takes revenge on him. What is remarkable about some of Telemann's operas is the mixture of languages. The recitatives are in German, whereas the arias are in German, French or Italian. This reflects the mixture of operas which were performed in Hamburg, but also fit in with Telemann's own preference for the 'mixed taste', in which the two main musical fashions in Europe, the Italian and the French, blended with the traditional German style.

Orpheus was only discovered in the 1970s. The complete libretto has survived which reveals that some parts of Telemann's composition are missing. In his recording René Jacobs (Harmonia mundi, 1996) included arias from other operas by Telemann and instrumental pieces by him and some contemporaries to fill the gaps. In this recording nothing of this kind happens. That is defensible; the fact that parts of Telemann's score are omitted is not. In the fifth scene of the first act the choir of the nymphs (Les plaisirs sont de tous les âges) has been cut, and so has the complete 10th scene. In the second act scene 5 is omitted, as is the aria of Orpheus in scene 8 (Vezzosi lumi). In act 3 scenes five and six are also left out. Surprisingly, neither the incompleteness of Telemann's score nor the cuts in the performance are mentioned in the booklet. That is not acceptable.

That would have been endurable if the performance would have been great. But it is not. Almost all singers are very good; they sing stylishly and mostly quite beautifully. But there is no sense of drama. The recitatives are mostly rather stiff and straightforward, with hardly any rhythmic flexibility. There is very little interaction between the protagonists. The basso continuo section doesn't do that much to keep them going. The arias are often a little too slow, and their rhythmic pulse is underexposed. Several singers are miscast. Dorothee Mields has a wonderful voice but she doesn't convince me as an opera singer. In the role of Orasia she needs a lot of bite, but that she doesn't have, how much she tries. And often she tries too hard. Markus Volpert doesn't make enough of the role of Orpheus; his diction leaves something to be desired, particularly in faster passages. Christian Zenker as his friend Eurimedes and especially Reinhard Mayr as Pluto exaggerate in their attempts to express their roles convincingly. Ulrike Hofbauer makes the best impression as Euridice. The orchestra is alright, but in some arias it is too flat.

On balance this new recording can't compete in any way with the interpretation of René Jacobs. It is unfortunate that Orpheus has been recorded twice, whereas many of Telemann's other operas are still waiting to be discovered.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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