Monteverdi: L'orfeo / Haïm, Bostridge, Dessay

Album cover art for upc 724354564222
Catalog: 456422
Format: CD

Natalie Dessay, Ian Bostridge, Patrizia Ciofi, Alice Coote, Christopher Maltman, Veronique Gens, Lorenzo Regazzo,

It seems natural that of all mythological heroes, Orpheus, a singer endowed with matchless musical gifts, should appeal to so many opera composers. L'Orfeo, which premiered at the Court of Mantua in 1607, was Monteverdi's first opera. This fairly new genre sought to combine performing practices of Greek and Roman antiquity with music capable of arousing and expressing emotions through a dramatic text. Alessandro Striggio's libretto gives the story an unusual perspective: it focuses on the power of music, but also on the need for self-discipline. Orpheus, having conquered the forces of death and Hades, is undone by his inability to accept the transience of mortal joy and to control his own impulses. Thus, the opera ends differently from the myth, as well as from the more famous opera by Gluck: Apollo, Orpheus' father, appears and offers him eternal bliss in Heaven. The music is enchantingly beautiful. The vocal lines are cast in the rhetorical "speech-song" used at the time, which carries the dramatic action and expresses the emotions of the characters; however, there is much elaborate coloratura and ornamentation at crucial moments. Instrumental "ritornellos" alternate with the vocal sections in infinitely varied, imaginative combinations, and the wonderfully rich-sounding chorus, impersonating shepherds, friends and furies, adds commentary in chorale-like or contrapuntal settings. The performance is superb. In the prominent part of Orpheus, Ian Bostridge is riveting, changing and coloring his voice to express joy, hope, pleading, passion, anguish, despair; even the intricate coloratura passages add to the emotional impact. Also outstanding are Natalie Dessay, Alice Coote, Mario Luperi and Christopher Maltman. The orchestra is a crucial element, supporting the singers, sometimes with answering and echoing solo lines, setting mood and atmosphere in the instrumental sections; the brass choir passages---solemn, somber, gloriously triumphant---are especially striking. Interestingly, though the strings play without vibrato, the singers mostly use full, vibrant voice. --Edith Eisler