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Orfeo ed Euridice

Opera. The mythological lovers are interpreted by Katarina Karnéus and Kerstin Avemo as we stage this, our first opera by Gluck.

It's a fine art, defying Fate

"World-class the whole way through" Aftonbladet
”It's completely brilliant” Dagens Nyheter
”Katarina Karnéus impresses in every way in her role as Orfeo.” Göteborgs-Posten
”A dazzling mezzo soprano and an explosive Euridice at The Göteborg Opera” Dagens Nyheter
"Exquisitely smooth and precise" Sverige Radio

Watch a film clip from Orfeo ed Euridice

When Orpheus' beloved wife, Eurydice dies, his grief is so great, his lament so plangent that the Gods relent and allow this mortal to journey into Hades, the Underworld, to bring her back to the land of the living. But Amor, the God of Love, sets conditions: through his skill as a singer, Orpheus must soften the hearts of the furies guarding the Gates of the Underworld; and on his way back he must neither look at Eurydice, nor explain why to her. If he fails Eurydice will die again.

Orfeo ed Euridice is a study of grief and grieving. A meeting between two people who, on the surface, have a loving relationship, but who in reality neither understand nor rely on one another.

2014 is the 300th anniversary of the birth of opera the reformer, Christoph Willibald Ritter von Gluck. For the first time in this opera house, we are staging one of his operas, in a production that is rather luxuriously gilt-edged. The rarely-staged Parma version of his eternally beloved Orfeo ed Euridice was created in one act for a soprano castrato, with the role of Orfeo in a higher voice then the original. Here, it will be performed by The Göteborg Opera's mezzo-soprano Katarina Karnéus, who is leaving the alto voice of this role for the soprano's range. Her Euridice will be international soprano Kerstin Avemo. This will be an exciting reunion for this pair, who had the audience rejoicing with their interpretations of Romeo and Juliet in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi last season. Amor is sung by Mia Karlsson.

The artistic team, with our in-house director David Radok at its head, has a long-term relationship with our opera house and our audience. After the successes with Dvořák's Rusalka, expectations are high for yet another enormously enchanting production of timeless mythology. Conductor and baroque expert, Laurence Cummings, has been a visiting conductor with us before, with the Handel operas Julius Caesar and Alcina. International eyes will also be drawn towards this production, since we will be the first opera house in the world to use the new source-evaluation edition of the Parma version.

David Radok
David RadokIngmar Jernberg
Laurence Cummings, Conductor
Laurence Cummings, ConductorAnton Sackl

Watch an interview with dramaturgist
Göran Gademan about re-descovering the
Parma version of Orfeo ed Euridice

A gallery of concept sketches by set designer Lars-Åke Thessman

The work that changed
opera history

Christoph Willibald Gluck was a cosmopolitan in the true sense of the word: born in Bavaria, musically trained in Milan, resident and actively working in both Vienna and Paris, as well as spending time in Prague as a student. His Orfeo ed Euridice was originally performed in Italian in Vienna in 1762 and is considered the first of his "reform" operas. To understand what was behind his reforms, it is necessary to find out more about what he was reacting against.

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Christoph Willibald Gluck

A stagnant form of opera

At the time of Orfeo, Neapolitan opera still stood in high repute. These were highly formalised operas that presented a chain of virtuosa da capo arias. The foremost representative of this form of opera and the one played most frequently today is George Frideric Handel, whose operas include Julius Caesar and Alcina dating from the first half of the 18th century. The relatively complicated story was put forward in recitativo (when a singer adopts the rhythms of ordinary speech) accompanied by harpsichord, known as "recitativo secco" or "dry recitative". The arias only reflected on the situation that had arisen and therefore gained a more and more stylised expression in which there was one emotion per aria: hate, desire, need for revenge, regret, despair, joy etc. At the end of the aria, its first part would be repeated and then the singer would vary it with his or her own embellishments, in a sort of vocal acrobatic act. To sum up: the libretto had become subordinate and the music had become increasingly disengaged from it.

Gluck made a clean sweep of the Neapolitan type of opera by bringing recitativo and aria closer together.

Three people reacted against this: apart from Gluck himself, it was his librettist Raniero de Calzabigi and the opera intendent from Vienna, Giacomo Durazzo. The eternal discussion about what is most important aspect of an opera – the libretto or the music – was resolved by going back to the origins of opera. As before, the basis for the libretto was taken from Greek mythology, but the story was pared down to a minimum in the spirit of Neoclassicism: in this version, the story of Orpheus, which had been set to music hundreds of times before, begins with Eurydice already having died and with Orpheus endeavouring to get her back, which is the only real action within the opera. Gluck made a clean sweep of the Neapolitan type of opera by bringing recitativo and aria closer together. He had all recitativo sections accompanied by the orchestra and considerably simplified the arias. The result was that the music, to a much higher degree than previously, really gave expression to what was being said in the libretto, word for word.

Orfeo ed Euridice on the title page of the first edition of Gluck's score in 1764.
Orfeo ed Euridice on the title page of the first edition of Gluck's score in 1764.

Reforms in print

In the preface to his next reform opera, Alceste, dating from 1767, he explained how he wanted in this way to bring the art of opera back to its original ideas when it had first come into existence 170 years earlier: "I wanted once more to give music its true purpose: to serve the drama by reinforcing the emotion it expressed and the interesting element of its situations, without interrupting the action or destroying it through useless and unnecessary embellishment…". But, to be frank, it was principally the opera intendent, Durazzo, who was the main impetus behind the ideas for opera reform, then Calzabigi the librettist, with Gluck then making the smallest contribution. Before and after Orfeo he composed operas in the older Neapolitan style with extensive features of coloratura and virtuoso singing. Even after his opera reform, he could still reuse previously written arias within new works, by transposing new words to the old aria.

In the preface to Alceste, Gluck also wrote that the overture ought to present the ideas within the entire drama. The fact that this was not the case in Orfeo – in which it is a free-standing, festive-sounding sinfonia – is because it was first performed for Austrian Emperor Franz's name day. This is also one of the reasons for the myth having a happy ending. Another of the reasons is that, in principle, operas always had happy endings during this period, although the original myth ended unhappily.

"I wanted once more to give music its true purpose: to serve the drama by reinforcing the emotion it expressed and the interesting element of its situations, without interrupting the action or destroying it through useless and unnecessary embellishment…” Christoph Willibald Gluck

Different singers give different versions

At its first performance, the title role was sung by an alto castrato called Gaetano Guadagni, and therefore the role was written in a relatively low key. The opera was a great success and, in Parma, it was performed again in 1769 at the wedding of Duke Ferdinand of Parma and Archduchess Maria Amalia of Austria. At these festivities, no fewer than three Gluck operas were performed, each of them being one act of a trilogy, preceded by a prologue. The first two operas were Philemon and Baucis and Aristeus – the latter constituting the prehistory of Orfeo since it is Aristeus who causes the death of Eurydice. Bearing in mind the trilogy's overall length, Gluck shortened Orfeo a little but, above all, he had to rewrite the entire title role once soprano castrato Giuseppe Millico had been engaged.

For him the role was rather too low in key, so Gluck had to transpose the Orpheus parts up in range while also having to write modulations for certain transitions, to ensure that the chorus and two soprano roles were not finally in too high a key. In the first scene, for example, Orpheus is a fourth higher than in the original, in other parts a minor third or a major second higher. At the Göteborg Opera, we were faced with the same situation before Katarina Karnéus was to perform the title role; for that reason, we have chosen to present the Parma version. And just as in Parma, we are playing it in one act with no intermission.

Giuseppe Millico
Giuseppe Millico

In France, castrati were regarded as very unnatural, so for the premiere in Paris in 1774, Gluck once again had to rewrite the role, this time for a high tenor. At that time, Orfeo had already been performed in Sweden, although not by a castrato but by Carl Stenborg who sang the role in a higher baritone key, arranged by conductor Francesco Uttini. To emulate the original key, the role has, since the 1800s, usually been sung by female mezzo-sopranos or altos, and many of the performances are based on a version that Hector Berlioz arranged for the famous mezzo Pauline Viardot in Paris in 1859.

Katarina Karnéus
Katarina Karnéus, soloistJoakim Roos

In this, Berlioz combined the Vienna and Parma versions with one another. In recent years, it has become increasingly common to permit male counter-tenors to sing the title role, usually in the original Vienna version. Performing the Parma version in that way would have been impossible, however, since a counter-tenor would never be able to reach those high key notes. For that reason, we are very proud to be able to present Katarina Karnéus in this rarely heard version – so unusual that it is not even available on CD.

Göran Gademan

Restaurant service

Our restaurant will be open after the performance of Orfeo ed Euridice to serve our fantastic shrimp sandwiches.

The Opera's Shrimp Sandwich

MSC certified shrimp on organic Danish rye bread with horseradish and lemon mayonnaise.


The restaurant will open 2.5 hours before the performance for á la carte service. We can take a limited number of table reservations. Book online here, or call us on 031-13 13 00.

We'll see you in the restaurant after the performance!

A couple of tips from the Opera Shop:


Orpheus und Eurydike - DVD

Pina Bausch's interpretation of Gluck's masterpiece. Opera and dance united to a whole. From Ballet de l'Opera national de Paris.

SEK 295 ea.

Orfeo & Euridice - 2 CD

René Jacobs magical recording with three of the world's leading baroque singers and experts Freiburger Barockorchester.

SEK 279 ea.


  • Genre: Opera
  • Season: 2013/2014
  • premiere: 8 Feb 2014
  • Last show: 11 Apr 2014
  • Location:

    Main Stage

  • Length: 1 hour and 25 minutes, no interval.


Conductor   Laurence Cummings
Direction   David Radok
Set Design   Lars-Åke Thessman
Costume Design   Karin Erskine
Light Design   Torkel Blomkvist
Choreography   Håkan Mayer

Takes part

Orfeo   Katarina Karnéus
Euridice   Kerstin Avemo
Amore   Mia Karlsson
The Göteborg Opera Chorus
The Göteborg Opera Orchestra


Play Interval