Orphée et Eurydice - Synopsis

Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice Christoph Willibald Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Orphée et Eurydice

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Pierre-Louis Moline based on Raniero de' Calzabigi
In the version by Hector Berlioz (1859)


Act One

Echoed by the chorus, Orpheus is mourning the death of his beloved Euridice. He begs the gods either to restore Euridice to life or to allow him to die as well. At this point Amor appears and announces to the bereaved husband that the gods have been moved by his sorrow and taken pity on him. He shall have their permission to descend into Hades and lead Euridice back from the dead. The gods, however, have made one condition: Orpheus must not look back at Euridice, nor offer an explanation for his behaviour either, otherwise she will be lost to him forever. Orpheus realises the danger which this condition involves: Euridice will doubt his love when he turns away from her. He is confident, however, that with Amor's help and the strength of his love he will be able to stand the test set him by the gods.


Act Two

In Hades Orpheus is greeted by a chorus of furies and demons who describe the kingdom of the dead as a place of terror and torment. Orpheus replies that no torment that the Nether World can offer could equal the fire of his ardent love. The sweetness of his song helps him to overcome the resistance of the furies and they allow him to enter.


Act Three

The chorus of happy shades sings about the Valley of the Blest, which Orpheus now enters in search of Euridice. He is driven by his longing to find her and begs the spirits to lead him to her. His wish is fulfilled and Euridice is returned from the dead.


Act Four

Euridice is simply happy to be together with Orpheus again, while he urges her to leave the kingdom of the dead. When he lets go of her hand, she begins to have doubts about his love. She begs him to look at her, but Orpheus remembers what the gods have stipulated and refuses. In the end, Euridice believes that he no longer loves her and refuses to follow him any further. Orpheus is unable to withstand any longer and turns round. The moment he looks at Euridice, she dies. Orpheus wants to kill himself and follow her down into Hades, but Amor prevents him from doing so, as he is affected by Orpheus' grief and resolution. He rewards him by bringing Euridice back to life.



Orpheus and Euridice are a happy couple. Euridice is bitten by a snake, dies and has to go down into Hades. With Amor's permission, Orpheus strides through the fires of hell and reaches the Valley of the Blest. There he finds Euridice and leads her out, but when he turns round to look at her he loses her forever. He is torn torn to pieces by the Thracian women at a Bacchanalian orgy, because he has turned away from the world. His head is carried across the sea to the island of Lesbos and becomes an oracle there.

© Bavarian State Opera