Monteverdi Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria
Dating from 1640, this was Monteverdi’s first original opera for the newly established public opera houses in Venice. Few recordings of it have been made, compared, for example, with his L’incoronazione di Poppea or Orfeo, and this account by La Venexiana is one of the more lively versions on CD. Cavina has assumed that the sole surviving manuscript is incomplete (which must be true) and is the work of more than one composer (which may not be).
Consequently he has inserted instrumental interludes to bind the scenes together and revised some harmonies. Usually this works well and enhances the intensity of the drama, as does the sensitive continuo playing. However, he has also ‘adjusted’ some of the actual melody lines – quite why he had to change the opening of the lovely Act II duet ‘Dolce speme il cor’ is beyond me.
There are 18 named roles in this opera and many are sung well. Tenor Makoto Sakurada (who plays Telemaco and Eurimaco) has the finest voice; strong, responsive and agile. Close behind are the three suitors (bass Marco Bussi as Antinoo, countertenor Roberto Balconi as Anfimono, and tenor Alessio Tosi as Pisandro), and soprano Roberta Mameli as Minerva. It is therefore a real disappointment that Ulisse (Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani) himself is so unfocused and weak, and that Penelope (Josè Maria Lo Monaco), although showing dramatic ability, lacks warmth and depth.
That said, this performance never loses sight of Monteverdi’s dramatic pace, and the instrumental playing throughout is more than commendable. Those looking to improve upon the performances here might instead try recordings
by René Jacobs on Harmonia Mundi with Christoph Pregardien in the title role, or Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s with Sven Olof Eliasson on Teldec.