Notes and Editorial Reviews
Daniel Stepner, cond; Frank Kelley (
); Roberta Anderson (
); Laurie Monahan (
La Musica, Messagera
); Aston Magna
CENTAUR 2931 (2 CDs: 106:08
Text and Translation)
The date of this recording falls between Cavina (31:2) and Vartolo (31:1) among versions made in 2006, so it should have arrived in time to be compared with the three anniversary recordings, Alessandrini (31:4) being the latest. The Cavina review ran down the work’s history, and the Alessandrini review compared the performing forces of the three new issues. Among the few recordings of
that try to approximate the number of performers that fitted into the small hall that was used in the Mantua palace for the first performances, this one matches the intimacy of Vartolo in using 11 singers and 21 players. As was evident in previous versions, these are quite enough musicians to make the score effective on recordings. In the theater, more singers make it unnecessary for the principals to double up on roles and sing in the chorus, and more instrumentalists simply add to the number of players on a part.
Vartolo’s version is the closest comparison here, and to the credit of the Aston Magna Festival, founded in 1972, the American performers are equal to the challenge. Frank Kelley is the only singer featured on the cover and none of the singers are voice-typed, but Kelley is a tenor of exquisite sensitivity to the demands of the role. The other singers do not double the same roles as Vartolo’s singers, so we hear Laurie Monahan as a lovely La Musica as well as Messagera, while Roberta Anderson sings Euridice. There is not a weak member of the cast. Aston Magna, founded in 1972 in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts, describes itself as the oldest annual summer festival in America devoted to period-instrument music. They have issued four previous recordings on the same label. Stepner is the current artistic director of the festival; its founder, Albert Fuller, died last year.
The major difference between Stepner and Vartolo is timing. As noted before, Vartolo expands the works to 140 minutes by ornamentation. Vartolo allows his Orfeo (as he did in his earlier recording on Naxos) to sing both the plain and ornamented version of the first three tercets of “Possente spirto” as they are printed in the first edition. This sort of expansion pervades every act of the opera, only his fifth act running a mere three minutes longer than Stepner’s. This places Stepner in the mainstream of timing, more comparable to Rogers/Medlam and Pickett among performances of this intimate quality. It is the finest
recorded in America, and comparable to the best on the market.
FANFARE: J. F. Weber