It is clear right from the start, with the almost aggressive snarling brass and thudding drums of the opening Toccata, that Rene Jacobs's reading of L'Orfeo is a full-blooded one. The tone is set almost immediately by Efrat Ben-Nun, whose approach to the two roles that she sings is refreshingly direct and dramatic; her lines are sensitively shaped and phrased, and only the improvised embellishments to the part of Music, at times quite elaborate, could possibly cause any controversy. (In view of Monteverdi's provision of a fully decorated version of "Possente spirto" in the two editions of the printed score that have survived, it remains a matter of keen debate whether further ornamentation should be applied elsewhere and if soRead more how.) Among the other soloists Bernarda Fink, well-known for her recorded performances in a wide range of repertory stretching from Monteverdi to Rossini via Handel, delivers a convincingly urgent account of Proserpina's appeal at the opening of the Fourth Act, while Harry Peeters's Pluto presents his measured responses with an attractively lyrical authority. Charon's strangely angular lines, with their air of menace appropriate to one who spends time in contact with the Underworld, are expertly managed by Paul Gêrimon, who shows himself to be a true Monteverdi bass. In short, these singers have been chosen with care, and on the whole demonstrate a sympathetic understanding of seventeenth-century singing styles even though their main experiences may have largely been elsewhere.
Rene Jacobs's approach to the thorny question of orchestration is robust. The score is notoriously difficult to interpret in this respect, often contradictory in its indications and sometimes frustratingly vague, a reflection of its primary purpose as dynastic propaganda rather than a practical publication intended to facilitate performances outside the Gonzaga court where the work was first given. This is not, of course, a licence for free invention as interpreters such as Corboz (Erato, 12/85) have taken it to be, but in the end any solution can only be judged against some notion of what Monteverdi's sound-world might have been. Jacobs's version was originally given at the Salzburg Festival in 1993, and his instrumental resources, based around three continuo instruments spatially separated, are more a reflection of the acoustical properties of a modern pit rather than those of the sort of room in the Ducal Palace in which L'Orfeo was first performed. There is nothing necessarily wrong with that, and it has to be said that the result is successful, discriminating and only rarely over-elaborate.
In the end the success of any performance of this work hangs decisively upon the casting of the titlerole. In Laurence Dale, Jacobs has found a powerful protagonist, a singer capable of negotiating the sudden changes of emotional state that characterize the part at some at its most critical moments with conviction. More to the point, "Possente spirto" itself, the spiritual and literal centre of the opera, is something of a tour de force, conveying the central conception of the power of song with true rhetorical understanding. This is a version of L'Orfeo to be reckoned with.
L'Orfeoby Claudio Monteverdi Performer:
Paul Gerimon (Bass),
Harry Peeters (Bass),
Bernarda Fink (Mezzo Soprano),
Andreas Scholl (Countertenor),
Nicolas Rivenq (Baritone),
Ulrich Messthaler (Bass),
Nathan Berg (Bass),
Gerd Türk (Tenor),
Geert Smits (Baritone),
Dominique Visse (Countertenor),
Maria Cristina Kiehr (Soprano),
Efrat Ben Nun (Soprano),
Marie-Noëlle de Callata˙ (Soprano),
Lynton Atkinson (Tenor),
Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano),
Laurence Dale (Tenor)
Period: Baroque Written: 1607; Mantua, Italy Date of Recording: 01/1995 Venue: German Radio Large Studio Length: 119 Minutes 49 Secs. Language: Italian
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The First True OperaNovember 28, 2011By Christian Withers (San Antonio, TX)See All My Reviews"I own an earlier issue of this, in my opinion the best recording of the first true opera. Includes excellent ensemble realization of the basso-continuo textures (melodic voices over written bass line and a semi-improvised accompaniment)."Report Abuse