Perfection,” said Shaw, “is inexhaustible. If ever a nation tried to extinguish Gluck – one of the attainers of perfection – by the simple British method of ignoring him, that nation is ourselves.” Shaw, one of the most communicative of Gluck enthusiasts was here being excessively harsh to the British: Gluck, at the time of his death, perhaps the world’s most famous opera composer, and now (I believe) opera’s most misunderstood creator of front-rank importance, has since 1787 been ignored in Britain neither more nor less than elsewhere.

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Christoph Willibald Gluck. Painting by Joseph-Siffred Duplessis.

In any examination of Gluck, paradoxes ab ound. In the history and development of the operatic medium he stands...