Ferdinando Bertoni

Orfeo (UK modern-times premiere)

Azione teatrale in three acts
Libretto by Ranieri de' Calzabigi
English translation by Gilly French

The Deanery garden, Bampton: 18, 19 July 2014
The Barn at Bury Court: 12 August 2014
Westonbirt School: 25 August 2014
St John's, Smith Square: 16 September 2014


Orfeo Anna Starushkevych
Euridice Aoife O'Sullivan
Imeneo Thomas Herford
Ensemble Gwawr Edwards, Caryl Hughes, 
  Thomas Herford, Robert Gildon
Conductor Thomas Blunt
Director Jeremy Gray



Ferdinando Bertoni, organist at St Marks, Venice, was treading on dangerous ground when he agreed to compose a new setting of Calzabigi's libretto Orfeo ed Euridice, already so successfully set by Gluck.  But Bertoni's insistent patron was none other than Gaetano Guadagni, the international castrato superstar who had created the role of Orfeo for Gluck in 1762 (and for whom Handel rewrote arias in Messiah). In Guadagni's opinion, Gluck simply didn't show off his voice to best advantage, and he wanted music more expressive and ambitious.  Bertoni well met the challenge in this wonderfully passionate and powerful setting of the immortal myth of love, death and music.

The musician Orpheus, only recently married, mourns the tragic death of his wife Euridice who has been killed by a snake.  Even as he rages against the gods for their injustice, he is visited by the God of marriage, Imeneo (Hymen) who allows him to descend to the underworld to regain his bride and return her to the land of the living.  But there is a condition: Orpheus must not look at his wife - or explain why - until he has brought her back to earth.

At the gates to Hades, Orpheus' plight and the beauty of his music calm even the Furies, who allow him to pass into their gloomy realm.  In the idyllic Elysian Fields, Orpheus is charmed by the tranquility of the blessed spirits, who eventually bring Euridice to him.  The joy of their reunion quickly turns to pain and recrimination as Euridice cannot understand her husband's seemingly cold behaviour.  When her emotional turmoil causes her to faint, Orpheus' will breaks and he impulsively turns to her, only to lose her again to a second and more bitter death. Without her, Orpheus can only long for death himself, but his intense grief causes even the gods to think again - Euridice is once again restored, and the opera ends with a hymn of praise to Love.