Notes and Editorial Reviews
MONTEVERDI L’Orfeo • Sergio Vartolo, cond/cembalo; William Matteuzzi (Orfeo); Sylvia Pozzer (Musica/Euridice); Sara Mingardo (Messaggera/Prosperina); Angela Bucci (Ninfa 1/Speranza); Gianpaolo dal Dosso (Caronte/Spiriti 5); Gianpaolo Fagotto (Apollo/Pastore 2); Loris
Bertolo (Plutone/Pastore 3/Spirito 4); Ilaria Zanetti (Ninfa 2); Michele Andalò (Pastore 1); Ad hoc ens • BRILLIANT 94373 (2 CDs: 139:24)
This is a reissue, sans libretto and with the liner notes chopped down from 30 pages to 10, of the recording initially reviewed in Fanfare 31:1 by J. M. Weber. But when I got around to playing the recording, I was so completely blown away by it that I felt compelled to review it; and as the performance progressed it suddenly dawned on me that I was listening to the greatest performance of L’Orfeo yet committed to disc.
For those who remember or wish to pull up Weber’s review, he spent a great deal of space explaining the differences between this recording and others, including Vartolo’s own earlier version on Naxos, which generally consisted of much reduced forces. Emulating the available musicians in Mantua at the time of the opera’s premiere, Vartolo uses only 20 musicians and 11 singers, nine of whom assume solo roles, not just seven as Weber claimed. All the soloists I could identify are listed in the headnotes. Where Weber slipped in his review was in not discussing the performance. If you read his review without hearing this recording, you’d have absolutely no clue how the musicians played or the singers sounded. You wouldn’t know if they were good, bad, or indifferent. He simply didn’t say a single word about them!
And that, dear readers, is exactly why I place this recording at the very head of L’Orfeo performances, and why I think it’s a recording that will stand the test of time. For Vartolo, who was also once a singer himself (a countertenor in the Clemencic Consort) in addition to being Italian, understands that Monteverdi intended this to be a sung drama, not just a vocal recital with instrumental accompaniment, and he fully encourages his very gifted cast to give a real performance of the music. The result is a recording that makes the music leap out of your speakers in a way unlike any other L’Orfeo I’ve ever heard. Even those familiar with other recordings by Sara Mingardo and/or William Matteuzzi will be surprised by their dramatic involvement here.
Take, for instance, the scene in act II when the messenger arrives to inform Orfeo and a shepherd that Euridice is dead. Mingardo, as the messenger, sounds as if her heart is breaking; she’s almost on the verge of tears. Matteuzzi, as Orfeo, sounds on the verge of a nervous breakdown. And Gianpaolo Fagotto, as the shepherd, almost screams out the line “Alas, bitter chance, ah, wicked cruel fate!” This is not just your ordinary, garden-variety Monteverdi performance. This is tragedy on the level of a true Greek drama.
Moreover, Vartolo gives what I can only describe as a quintessentially Italianate reading of the score, lyrical and employing wonderful dynamic contrasts with his 20 musicians. Several of the singers, but particularly Sylvia Pozzer in the dual roles of Euridice and Musica and basso Loris Bertolo as Pluto, have vibrato in their voices—not a heavy, full operatic vibrato, but much more than we come to expect from Anglo-Saxon singers in this repertoire. (Tenor Fagotto, in the dual role of Apollo and a Shepherd, also has a vibrato, but in his case it’s an uneven one that mars some of his singing; fortunately, though he sings for quite a while in one scene of act I, he’s not around for long.) In addition, mezzo Mingardo actually varies her vocal timbre for the roles of the Messenger (straight tone) and Prosperina (vibrato), and all of the singers exemplify the true bel canto ideal, which is to say, varying their vocal timbre from straight tone to vibrato and back again as the music and dramatic situation demands.
Thus, despite the reduced forces, what emerges is a very satisfying and emotionally interesting performance of Monteverdi’s first opera. Unlike the other recordings I’ve heard—an exception being the live performance conducted by Paul Hindemith—this one breathes life from first note to last, and unlike the Hindemith recording nearly all the singers are wonderful. The sound effects, like the offstage noise of the Furies in act IV, merely add to the effectiveness and wonderment of this production. In short, this performance sounds alive, and that trumps whatever points are made, or scored, by presenting as reduced forces as is humanly possible.
It’s a shame that I had to wait until age 61 to hear such a splendid performance of L’Orfeo, but at least it arrived before I shuffled off this mortal coil. Don’t you miss this one. This reduced-price reissue comes without a libretto, but you can download it for free from the label’s website. It’s set up for 8 1/2 x 11-inch paper in landscape orientation, but if you select and copy the text to Word, as I did, you can reformat it as a booklet-sized libretto.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley Read less
Works on This Recording
L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi
Loris Bertolo (Baritone),
Sara Mingardo (Alto),
Sylva Pozzer (Soprano),
William Matteuzzi (Tenor),
Sergio Vartolo (Harpsichord),
Gian Paolo Fagotto (Tenor),
Angela Bucci (Soprano)
Ad Hoc Bern
Written: 1607; Mantua, Italy
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