Gluck, Christoph Willibald


Gluck, Christoph Willibald

Écho et Narcisse (with French and German libretto)

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Gluck, Christoph Willibald

Écho et Narcisse (with French and German libretto)

Drame lyrique in a prologue and three acts
Libretto by Baron Louis-Thédore de Tschoudi after Ovid’s Metamorphoses

(b. Erasbach, 2 July 1714 – d. Vienna, 15 November 1787)


Rarely have any of opera history’s supreme composers ended their careers with a fiasco. On the contrary: Monteverdi had his Ritorno d’Ulisse and Mozart his Zauberflöte, Wagner his Parsifal and Verdi his Falstaff, Rossini his Guillaume Tell and even Offenbach his Tales of Hoffmann, all of which rank among their composers’ most sublime creations. Christoph Willibald Gluck, whose place in the operatic Pantheon no one seriously questions, forms the exception to this rule: his final opera, Écho et Narcisse was perhaps the most dismal and certainly the least expected failure of his stellar career. This raises, of course, two questions: what was it that brought about the work’s failure, and was that failure justified?

Gluck himself had no suspicion of the fate that awaited his final operatic creation. When he left Vienna for Paris in May 1779 it was with the plan of moving permanently to the French capital in triumph, and for this purpose he had two more or less finished opera scores in his luggage: Iphigénie en Tauride after the Greek tragedy by Euripides, and the aforementioned Écho et Narcisse after the familiar mythological tale from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. He negotiated huge sums of money for their performance, causing local gossip columnists to opine that “his love of money is by no means less than his thirst for glory.” Interestingly, while he was satisfied with 12,000 livres for Iphigénie, he sought no less than 20,000 livres for Écho et Narcisse and was furious to be bargained down to 15,000, for which insult he intended personally to complain to Queen Maria Antoinette. In short, he held Écho et Narcisse in higher regard than the immortal Iphigénie en Tauride and expected to be remunerated accordingly.

Events were to prove him dreadfully wrong. Iphigénie, duly mounted at the Paris Opéra on 18 May 1779, became one of the greatest triumphs he was ever to witness; audiences were thrilled and moved to the quick by Gluck’s re-creation of the Greek tragedy with the means of modern musical theater, and their expectations for Écho could hardly have been greater. Yet doubts began to arise already during the rehearsals. The Mémoires secrets, an anonymous handwritten chronicle that reported widely and with great insight on Parisian cultural events, wrote of the dress rehearsal on 20 September that the libretto was “détestable” and the music far too ponderous for such a lightweight subject – opinions that have stood the test of time to the present day.

Read full preface / Komplettes Vorwort lesen > HERE

Score Data

Score No.



Opera Explorer

Special Edition



210 x 297 mm

Performance materials
Piano reduction




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