Saturday, April 13, 2013

Opera (1)

Claudio Monteverdi, L'Orfeo (Sergio Vartolo)

It has been almost a year since I have written in this weblog. The reasons are a lack of material which was interesting enough to write about, and - more importantly - a lack of time, as the writing of reviews for my own site, Musicweb International and the German magazine Toccata/Alte Musik Aktuell have kept me busy. I am trying to make a new start and revive this weblog.

I do so by writing about an opera recording. I don't often review opera. It is a genre which I am not that interested in, and I find it hard to assess the way the various characters are portrayed. However, I regularly receive opera recordings from the editors of Toccata/Alte Musik Aktuell, and I review them - albeit in a rather concise form - for their magazine. I have decided to extend these reviews a little and publish them in this weblog from time to time.

It seems appropriate to start with a recording of one of the earliest operas in history, L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi. There is certainly no lack of recordings in the catalogue, and one wonders why Brilliant Classics decided to include it in its Opera Collection. It comprises many famous operas, and I doubt whether these releases are up to the competition. The recording of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo certainly is not.

I can't find much which would make it recommendable. It seems that Sergio Vartolo has opted for an intimate performance, considering the small instrumental ensemble he has brought together. It includes just two violins and the brass is also reduced: two cornetts, one trumpet, one quinta and four sackbuts. That makes it especially surprising that the toccata which opens the opera is preceded by a drum roll. It completely takes away the magical effect of the sudden entrance of the cornett and the trumpets; moreover, there is no indication in the score whatsoever that percussion should be involved here. Equally surprising is the rough and rather vulgar outcry of the first shepherd (Ahi caso acerbo), when the messenger has finished his report of the circumstances of Euridice's death.

William Matteuzzi is not a specialist in early music. If we take this into account his interpretation of the role of Orfeo isn't that bad. He doesn't add much ornaments, which is - although stylistically untenable - probably just as well, because in 'Possente spirto' he shows that this aspect of baroque performance practice doesn't come natural to him. This episode is just too pathetic in a romantic sort of way. On the words "può ch'io viva' we even get a little sob. It goes from bad to worse and takes the character of a real tear-jerker at the end (Ah che niega il conforto a le mie pene?) and - shortly before the chorus which closes the third act - on "rendetemi il mio ben".

The various other roles are not an unqualified success either. Sara Mingardo's interpretation of the roles of the messenger and of Proserpina is one of the better aspects, from an expressive point of view, but stylistically her contribution is less convincing. She doesn't seem to feel totally at home in this kind of music. Disappointing is also Gianpaolo Dal Dosso in the role of Caronte. His voice lacks the power and penetration which is required here. Loris Bertolo has a more powerful voice and that makes him suitable for the role of Pluto. Unfortunately he doesn't know how to deal with a text in a stylistically convincing way. Gianpaolo Fagotto, on the other hand, knows what recitar cantando means, and that is more than can be said about most of the other singers. It results in a good performance of the roles of Apollo and one of the shepherds. Whether one likes his singing is a matter of taste, I assume.

There are many little things in this performance which are rather annoying. In the end, its main weakness - and decisive for the ultimate assessment - is that it isn't very dramatic. One of the reasons is its slowness: this performance is the slowest I have ever heard. Because of that it just drags on, and I found it hard to listen from start to finish, which otherwise never happens in this masterpiece. Even the ritornelli don't sparkle; some tempi are simply caricatural.

Having listened to this recording I wonder even more what Brilliant Classics may have made release it. Apparently it has been on the shelve for five years. It better had stayed there.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643): L'Orfeo
Sylvia Pozzer (Musica, Euridice), William Matteuzzi (Orfeo), Sara Mingardo (Messaggera, Proserpina), Angela Bucci (Speranza, Ninfa II), Gianpaolo Dal Dosso (Caronte), Gianpaolo Fagotto (Apollo, Pastore II), Loris Bertolo (Plutone, Pastore III), Ilaria Zanetti (Ninfa I), Gabriella Martellacci (Ninfa III), Michele Andalò (Pastore I); Gabriela Marcellacci, Francesco De Poli, Gianpaolo Fagotto, Loris Bertolo, Gianpaolo Dal Dosso (Spiriti); Instrumental ensemble/Sergio Vartolo
Recorded Oct 2006, Auditorium of Pigna, Corsica
Brilliant Classics 94373 (© 2012) (2 CDs: 62'31" - 76'49")