Carl Orff felt an immediate affinity for the operas of Claudio Monteverdi when he discovered them early in his career, and he made modern realizations of several scores throughout his life. He created three adaptations of l'Orfeo (1923, 1929-1930, and 1940) using a German translation of the text and this is a recording of his final version. Orff radically restructured the opera, eliminating more than half of the solo roles, reducing the number of acts from five to three, shuffling the order of the music, entirely rewriting some of it, and cutting more than half of it. As such, the piece should be evaluated as a work of Orff's rather than as a valid representation of Monteverdi's intentions. That will be an easier task for listeners who don't have prior familiarity with the Monteverdi than for those who do. Orff's adaptation works on its own terms. His emphasis is on the first half of the opera and it has a reasonable, dramatic arc; the scenes in the underworld are passed over briefly and the elimination of the fifth act apotheosis leaves the opera ending with the tragic final separation of the lovers.
Ulf Schirmer leads a lively performance of Orff's score, adhering to a mid-century understanding of early Baroque performance practice (i.e., what Orff would have envisioned) rather than on more recent research on period authenticity. Münchner Rundfunkorchester and Orpheus Chor München play and sing responsively. The singers, particularly heroic baritone Kay Stiefermann (who carries the vast bulk of the solo singing) in the title role and sweet-voiced mezzo-soprano Michaela Selinger as Eurydike deliver nuanced, dramatically urgent performances. As the Messenger, mezzo-soprano Janina Baechle sings with sensitivity and warmth, but her voice sounds somewhat hard and forced in Orff's (relatively faithful) adaptation of Ariadne's Lament, which fills out the disc. The sound of the live 2010 recording is clean, realistic, and well-balanced.