Jacobs gives us a definitive account of a very important opera.

CAVALIERI: Rappresentazione di Anima e di Corpo – Marie-Claude Chappuis (Anima)/ Johannes Weisser (Corpo)/ Gyula Orendt (Tempo, Consiglio)/ Mark Milhofer (Inteletto, Piacere)/ Marcos Fink (Mondo, Secondo Compagno di Piacere, Anima dannata)/ Staatsopernchor/ Concerto vocale/ Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/ René Jacobs – Harmonia mundi HMC902200/01, 1:32:52 ****:

It strikes me as a little amusing to hear of this work, supposedly pre-opera and oratorio, as a “music drama”. For most people, it was Wagner who invented the term! Yet if we can still refer to his later works as operas—and we do—it is with much assurance that we can call this piece an opera as well, even though it predates when we commonly use the term. Musicology, after all, is not a precise science, and just because the attribution has been given to Peri and Caccini doesn’t necessarily make it so.

However, musicological pickings aside, this work, premiered in February 1600, is a dialogue between Soul and Body, with other allegorical characters and angels and souls in heaven and hell that uses chorus, singers, and a large and colorful orchestra. There are almost-arias, ariosos, instrumental interludes, and generally exciting choral work. Of course, this is a reconstruction, something that Jacobs is a master of, and his own penchant according to previous efforts in other works, flows along these same lines. Even so, one can see that, apart from the fairly “serious” nature of such a dialog, written when people, unlike today, had much greater attention spans and depth of thought, pure entertainment was also a concern. This piece is surely that, never a dull moment, and musically as fine as the genuine “operas” that were to follow.

Jacobs once again scores high on an important reconstruction. There have been other recordings, some from years ago, but Jacobs is the one now to have.

—Steven Ritter