Powered by Squarespace

The Reformed Drunkard (1760) is a comic opera by Christoph Willibald Gluck (1714-1787) written two years prior to his celebrated work on Orfeo ed Euridice (1762). The opera is originally titled L’ivrogne corrigé, with a libretto by Louis Anseaume and Jean‐Baptiste Lourdet de Santerre, and is based upon a fable of La Fontaine.

In a state of inebriation, the drunkard Mathurin decides to marry off his niece Colette, who loves someone else. Colette, her aunt Mathurine, and her true love Cléon hatch a plan. When Mathurin passes out from too much drinking, they create a hallucinatory trip to the underworld. Disguised as Pluto and Two Furies, they place the marriage contract and their uncle’s reckless ways on trial.

Gluck’s first opéras comiques were imported from France to Vienna in the 1750s. The composer would replace the typically French ariettes with his own melodies, more to the taste of Austrian audiences. Over the next decade, Gluck contributed more to the pieces, rewriting them wholesale rather than revising them. Before long, Gluck’s writing was less adaptation, and more his own creation. The playful, inventive stories, and the corresponding dramatic structure were a strong departure from the prevalent opera seria. Gluck’s eight comic operas, dating from the middle of his career, helped to expand his musical vocabulary and lead to the operatic reforms of his later works.

The Reformed Drunkard, one of the most charming in the genre, premiered at Vienna’s Burgtheater in 1760. Gluck mixed buoyant folk tunes, comic trios, and heartfelt melodies. A tenor aria for the young lover Cléon is a sketch for Gluck’s celebrated “Che farò senza Euridice?” The nearly through composed scene in underworld presages his writing for Orfeo. Performed with some frequency during his lifetime, The Reformed Drunkard disappeared from the repertoire following Gluck’s death. It was rediscovered by Vincent D’Indy in France in 1922, and then staged in Berlin in 1943. The first known American performances were at Tanglewood in 1953 with piano.