Gluck / Berlioz: Orpheus and Euridice

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March 2021

Orpheus is undoubtedly the opera of operas: from Monteverdi to Rossi, at the origin of lyric art, then with Gluck imposing the reform of opera in Italian in Vienna, in French in Paris, finally with Berlioz in a romantic version, (and before Offenbach’s brilliant parody), the amorous fate of the Greek poet is enduringly perpetuated on theatre stages. After Eurydice's sudden death, Orpheus goes to seek his wife in the Underworld. His song has the power to appease the Furies and animate the Blessed Spirits, allowing the couple to return to the path of light...towards their destiny.

Gluck's Orpheus and Eurydice shook up the Europe of the Age of Enlightenment. However, after 80 years of performance of the Paris version of Orpheus created by Gluck in 1774, the score used at the Paris Opera had been greatly transformed by regular use and successive corrections and modifications had corrupted the work. In 1859, Berlioz enthusiastically agreed to work on a revised version: his admiration for Gluck made him an intimate connoisseur of the work and its multiple Italian and French versions. He thus dissected it down to the last detail, in order to produce a "modern" version that was nevertheless true to Gluck. “Let us abandon ourselves fully to what moves our soul and not give in to anything that might prevent us from enjoying ourselves!” Berlioz threw himself into his task of adaptation with great enthusiasm, certain that he would finally give THE version of Orpheus that the Second Empire had been waiting for. And this was the case: "we are stunned!” said Berlioz about Orpheus’s grand aria, and the audience was undoubtedly so.

Program and cast


Jess Dandy: Orpheus
Helene Guilmette: Euridice
Lea Desandre: Love

Dancers and acrobats

Pygmalion: Choir and orchestra
Raphaël Pichon: Conductor
Aurélien Bory: Director and stage sets
Taïcyr Fadel: Dramaturgy
Pierre Dequivre: Stage sets
Manuela Agnesini: Costumes
Arno Veyrat: Lights
Claire Schwartz: Costumes assistant
Alain Muller: Accompanist and voice coach


Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714 – 1787)
Hector Berlioz (1803 – 1869)
Orpheus and Euridice

Tragedy opera in four acts on a libretto by Pierre-Louis Moline.
Version reworked by Hector Berlioz created in 1859 in Paris.

Palace of Versailles

Royal Opera

The Royal Opera of Versailles, located in the grounds of the Castle, one of the major opera houses.

The opening of the opera house at Versailles brought to a close a process of planning, projects and designs that had lasted for nearly a century. While the Royal Opera was finally built towards the end of the reign of Louis XV, it had been envisaged since as early as 1682, the year when his predecessor Louis XIV took up residence at Versailles. The King had commissioned Jules Hardouin-Mansart and Vigarani to draw up plans for a ballet theatre. Mansart shrewdly decided on a position at the far end of the new wing that was to be built over the coming years: the nearby reservoirs for the gardens’ fountains could be used to fight any fire that might break out, while the sloping ground on that part of the site would allow provision of the necessary technical spaces below the stage without major excavation work. So cleverly-chosen, indeed, was the planned location that none of Mansart’s successors ever questioned it.

Major building work was already under way in 1685, but was soon interrupted because of the wars and financial difficulties which beset the later part of the king’s reign. Louis XV in his turn was long put off by the huge expense involved in the project. As a result, for almost a century the French court was forced to put up with a makeshift theatre installed below the Passage des Princes. When a grand opera was required, with a large cast and complicated stage machinery, a temporary theatre would be built in the stables of the Grande Ecurie, with the entire structure being demolished once the performances were over. This temporary solution was adopted, for instance, during the celebrations of the Dauphin’s wedding in February 1745, but its inconvenience was so starkly obvious that Louis XV finally resolved to build a permanent theatre, entrusting its design to his first architect, Ange­Jacques Gabriel.

The process of actually building the new theatre, however, was to take over twenty years. During this lengthy period of construction Gabriel, who had studied the leading theatres of Italy, in particular Vicenza, Bologna, Parma, Modena and Turin, presented a series of different designs to his royal patron, none of which was accepted. Only in 1768, faced with the forthcoming successive marriages of his grandchildren, did the king finally give the order for work to commence. Building progressed steadily and the new opera house was completed in twenty-three months, ready for its inauguration on the 16th of May 1770, the day of the Dauphin’s marriage to the Archduchess Marie-Antoinette, with a performance of Persée by Quinault and Lully.

Royal Chapel

This extraordinary two-level palatine chapel was built by Jules Hardouin Mansart between 1699 and 1708 and completed by Robert de Cotte in 1710.
The paintings on the vaulted ceiling by Antoine Coypel, Charles de la Fosse and Jean Jouvenet, as well as the lavish decoration fashioned by a team of sculptors working for Louis XIV, depict a number of Old and New Testament scenes. Facing the royal gallery is the remarkable organ, created by Robert Clicquot, the King's organ builder, which was first played on Easter Sunday 1711 by François Couperin.
Even though Hardouin-Mansart did not witness the completion of the chapel, he was the one who had dictated the major aspects of the architecture and decor: a ground floor with a nave, aisles and ambulatory, and an upper floor with galleries, a harmonious combination of white and gold contrasting with the polychromatic marble floor and paintings on the vaulted ceiling, all combining to create an original space with references to both gothic architecture and baroque aesthetics.
Every day, generally at 10 a.m., the court would attend the King's mass. The King would sit in the royal gallery, surrounded by his family, while the ladies of the court would occupy the side galleries. The "officers" and the public would sit in the nave. The King would only descend to the ground floor for important religious festivals when he would take communion, for Order of the Holy Spirit ceremonies and for the baptisms and weddings of the Children of France, which were celebrated there between 1710 and 1789. Above the altar, around the Cliquot organ played by the greatest virtuosos of their age, including François Couperin, the Chapel Choir, renowned throughout Europe, would sing motets throughout the entire service, every day.

The Orangerie gardens

From May to October, orange trees and other shrubs are taken out of the Parterre Bas of the Orangerie gardens. At the center of this parterre, there is a large circular pool surrounded by six sections of lawn.



A great stone cathedral within a formal garden, The Orangerie is both a royal and magical place.

Built between 1684 and 1686 by Jules Hardouin-Mansart to house and protect precious trees and shrubs during the Winter, this extraordinarily large building is located beneath the parterre du Midi (South flowerbed), for which it acts as a support. Two monumental staircases, known as "les Cent Marches" (the hundred steps), frame the Orangerie's three galleries, which overlook the parterre where, during the Summer, more than 1,200 exotic trees are arranged.

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