Notes and Editorial Reviews
Nikolaus Harnoncourt, cond; Philippe Huttenlocher (
); Dietlinde Turban (
); Trudeliese Schmidt (
); Roland Hermann (
); Glenys Linos (
); Werner Gröschel (
); Hans Franzen
); Peter Keller (
); Francisco Araiza (
Second Shepherd, First Spirit
); Monteverdi Ens of the Zurich Op House
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 000824209 (DVD: 101:00)
Though this 1978 production of
leads off with formally attired people seating themselves in a box, an opera house filled with attendees in formal dress visible below, a clue to the unreality of it all is the way instrumentalists mingle on stage in faux-conversation with singers moments before the performance begins. This is a motion picture made without an audience, allowing for effects that would be impossible if filmed from theater seats—occasional camera shots from directly above, for one, and jump cuts that allow singers to vanish and reappear elsewhere on stage, for another. Throughout the production, stage director and designer Jean-Pierre Ponnelle repeatedly finds actions (and Wolfgang Treu, director of photography, camera positions) that remind viewers they are watching a theatrical performance, not “fourth wall removed” reality. This is authentic for the period, but remains rare. Baroque opera is still usually offered on DVD in a setting that ignores the distancing frame.
The result is not unlike an Elizabethan masque or Neapolitan Christmas pageant. Through dancing, colorful costumes, clever blocking, and imaginative camera shots, this
prevents the relative static of the proceedings from turning into a staged oratorio. The acting is exceptionally good, moving beyond the conveyance of larger emotional reactions into a level of subtler detail one seldom sees in opera performances.
The singing leaves little to be desired. Huttenlocher is expressive and lyrical, while Schmidt performs freely and with fine tone. Both basses, Gröschel and Franzen, play up the character angle of their parts within their voices, but not sufficiently to exaggerate the vocal line. Note, too, the presence of Francisco Araiza in two secondary parts; this is casting from strength. Only Turban is a bit of a let down, her voice thin and unpleasant. Harnoncourt leads energetically, and with great rhythmic definition.
Not everything works perfectly. One symbol of sexual attraction that Ponnelle adds early in the opera—Orfeo and Eurydice walking towards one another very slowly, expressionless, then gradually lowering their foreheads to touch as they sigh, while festive music washes unheard over them—soon goes awry as Eurydice follows up by simply walking offstage, while Orfeo celebrates with his shepherd pals. The gesture is well conceived and brilliantly executed, but it doesn’t fit the context. Still, such missteps are very few, and Ponnelle always has 20 excellent ideas for every one that misfires. Visuals are clear and sharp, with sound in both PCM Stereo and DTS 5. Subtitles are in English, German, French, Spanish, and Chinese. The only disappointment here is the lack of bonus materials (aside from commercial trailers to Deutsche Grammophon’s other DVD releases). Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Barry Brenesal
STEREO: PCM / SURROUND: DTS 5.1
Picture Format: 4:3
A production of UNITEL
Works on This Recording
L'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi
Trudeliese Schmidt (Mezzo Soprano),
Dietlinde Turban (),
Philippe Huttenlocher (Bass),
Francisco Araiza (Tenor)
Zurich Opera House Monteverdi Ensemble
Written: 1607; Mantua, Italy
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