Claudio Monteverdi L'Orfeo Favola in Musica DVD La Musica Montserrat Figueras Orfeo Furio Zanasi Euridice Arianna Savall Messaggiera Sara Mingardo Speranza Cecile van de Sant Caronte Antonio Abete Proserpina Adriana Fernandez Plutone Daniele Carnovich Apollo Fulvio Bettini Ninfa Mercedes Hernandez Pastores Gerd Tuerk Francesc Garrigosa Carlo Mena Ivan Garcia La Capella Reial de Catalunya Le Concert des Nations Stage director Gilbert Deflo Designer William Orlandi Choreography Anna Casas
Musical Director Jordi Savall
Recorded in the Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona, Spain On 31 January 2002
BBC Opus Arte OA 0842 D Running time: approx. 140'
The DVD format seems to have been made to record opera. With the clarity of picture and quality of sound, as well as the ability to select several sound options (stereo or surround) and subtitle into any one of four languages (English, French, German or Spanish) the format does produce an experience as close as possible to being at the live performance, without actually being there. This DVD is a good example of how the format can be exploited to achieve just this end, and achieves a balance of factors that make it one of the opera release highlights of the year.
The musical performance is as one would expect from the consummate Jordi Savall. The soloists are consistently first rate, the playing of Les concerts des Nations is exciting and flawless and the chorus sings with the usual precision and wide range of colour that we have come to expect of La Capella Reial de Catalunya. Positioned in front of the proscenium arch on either side of the band the chorus take no part in the drama on stage, although costumed as shepherds, but musically they are better able to fill the auditorium with the lovely polyphony of Monteverdi's madrigalesque chorus writing. The action on stage during choruses is transferred to a group of very fine dancers, costumed in flowing robes, who range from solemn, through vigorously energetic to the outright camp, but all done with consummate style.
Furio Zanasi is a fine Orfeo, statuesque of person and agile of voice, and he carries the enormous burden of this principal role with ease. But the vocal highlights of the performance come from some of the smaller parts. Daniele Carnovich, one of the most stupendous basses on the continent today, makes a suitably austere Plutone, king of the underworld. The other bass role, the very low part of Caronte, the ferryman on the River Styx, whose task it is to transport souls from the land of the living to the underworld of Hades, is sung from behind a marvellously gruesome mask by Antonio Abete. In the first act Orfeo has comparatively little to do, the principal vocal parts being the four Shepherds (Pastores) who sing as soloists, in duets and as an ensemble. Dramatically their roles are of static interest, but musically they are first rate. The absolute vocal highlight of the performance however, is the singing of Sara Mingardo in the role of Messaggiera. This is Sylvia, Euidice's companion, whose unhappy fate is to break the news of Euridice's death to Orfeo. Entering through the audience in the auditorium and singing her opening lament from in front of the orchestra, right in the midst of the audience, her communication with that audience is remarkable, and the level and intensity of her (minimalist) acting catches just the right atmosphere of the role. This is most impressive and the ecstatic audience reaction on her curtain call (more vigorous even than that for Orfeo) shows how the live audience appreciated her.
The major musical star of the performance is, as ever, Jordi Savall, who makes his own dramatic entrance during the opening toccata for the trumpets. Dressed as Monteverdi, in white collars and voluminous black gown, he sweeps through the audience closely followed by the camera, arriving at the orchestra pit as the trumpets give way to the whole orchestra for the repeat of the toccata. It is marvellous showmanship, so simple, and stunningly effective.
If there is a gripe about this DVD it is that cast biographies are omitted, both from the booklet and from the disc itself, although the disc includes a 'cast gallery'; a somewhat pointless series of photos of each major character with their name beside the photo. It is pointless as we have just seen, or are just about to see, these same people in the same costumes, moving around during the performance. A missed opportunity to include some biographical information, especially given the family connections in this performance, with Savall's wife, the marvellous Montserrat Figueras singing the role of La Musica, and their daughter Arianna Savall, singing Euridice.
The other extra feature on the disc is an illuminating talk by the Stage director, the Dutchman Gilbert Deflo about his conception for the production. The staging is a combination of modern minimalism and baroque exuberance. The most dramatic feature is a vast mirrored curtain over the front of the stage, in which the whole auditorium is reflected. The idea came from the famous Hall of Mirrors in the Ducal Palace at Mantua, where the opera was first performed. As a device it is simple and effective, bringing to the fore issues surrounding the use of mythology as a reflection of the vices and virtues of the human condition, and of opera itself as a reflection of the artistic world inhabited by both the creators of the opera and the contemporary audience who view the opera. Thus the audience in the auditorium is able at various points in the opera to see themselves reflected in the mirrored curtain, through which they then move, Alice-in-wonderland-like, into the magic world of the opera, where singing is the natural form of communication and the fields of arcadia are populated by free-loving nymphs, shepherds, deities and demi-gods. It is an odd world, but this stage design puts the conventions of baroque opera into a context that makes them seem logical in the context of a production viewed by a modern audience.
Apart from the lack of biographies, this DVD is a fabulous evening's entertainment, at well below the price of an opera circle ticket. This is one of the most recommendable releases of recent times. Go and add this to the collection.
(Peter Wells 2003)
Six pieces Opus 15 5 Communion in F major Op. 15
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