MONTEVERDI: L’Orfeo (complete opera) – Montserrat Figueras (La Musica)/ Furio Zanasi (Orfeo)/ Arianna Savall (Euridice)/ Sara Mingardo (Messaggiera)/ Antonio Abete (Caronte)/ Cecile van de Sant (Speranza)/ Adriana Fernandez (Proserpina)/ La Capella Reial de Catalunya/ Le Concert des Nations/ Jordi Savall – Alia Vox multichannel SACD AVSA 9911 (2 discs), 104:09 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
As the years go by the increasing importance of Monteverdi becomes clearer to musicologists and the public alike. Though he has never exactly been an unknown, the pre-Baroque nature of his music, replete with predominant recitatives that can feel a little incomplete to those on a steady diet of Handel and Bach, make him an acquired taste. In fact, his art is a culmination of sorts that adds an infinitely new and rich aura to a long-developed process of dramatic presentation. The recitatives in question, and they do dominate his landscapes, never achieved such emotional and fervently dramatic usage before in the history of music, and the way he weds text to the music is something unprecedented and in many ways never equaled again. The interspersed variation “arias” and strophic songs led to the development of an operatic art form that would have influence even on composers as varied as Wagner and Verdi.
Those in the audience in Mantua in 1607 were overawed with what they heard, the first truly “great” opera in history. An orchestra of 38 colorful and varied instruments tantalized their ears, while the tale—set by Alessandro Striggio from the very familiar and well-loved story from Ovid’s Metamorphosis—had never been seen or heard quite like this. The five-act piece (probably performed straight through) only increased its currency with audiences when the composer revised it and added a spectacular new ending in 1609. Originally, Orpheus is torn limb from limb from the Bacchantes, but Monteverdi has him simply “threatened” by the same. In the revised version, indicated only by the published score, he attains redemption of sorts, and no doubt a cheerier audience departs the theater.
This is a decent recording of the score, though I am surprised it was not released on the Alia Vox “Heritage” moniker, as it was recorded in 2002. However, technically this is its first appearance on SACD, previously available as a DVD from Opus Art. The SACD sound is wonderful, and generally the performance is quite stirring. I do have a few problems with the sometimes intonation-challenged hero, Furio Zanasi, who seems to lack utter ease with the role; yet the rest of the cast is excellent and the orchestra superb. I retain a fondness for the old 1984 EMI Reflexe edition with Nigel Rogers and Emma Kirkby, the former a world-renowned specialist in the role, but the sound on that recording, though still excellent, is not in the same league as here. There are other good recordings out there, but none is perfect though most are recommended. As this is the only SACD recording currently available, for many it is self-recommending!