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Stravaganze d’Amore! – The Birth of Opera at the Medici Court

Lea Desandre, Eva Zacik, Lucile Richardot et al; Pygmalion Choir & Orchestra/Raphaël Pichon (Versailles DVD)

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Stravaganze d’Amore! – The Birth of Opera at the Medici Court
Works by Monteverdi, Caccini, Malvezzi, Fantini, Gagliano, Allegri, Cavalieri et al
Lea Desandre, Eva Zacik, Lucile Richardot et al (voices); Pygmalion Choir & Orchestra/Raphaël Pichon
Versailles CVS019   107.00 mins (DVD)


Monteverdi is saluted as the father of Western opera, but who grandfathered this ‘exotic and irrational entertainment’? In this live recording from Versailles, Raphaël Pichon argues that the idea of music drama was planted in the extravagant musical interludes that the Medicis staged in Florence to celebrate their own power and dynastic ambitions. To prove his point Stravaganza d’Amore is a re-imagining of four of these interludes culled from scores by composers such as Caccini, Peri, Malvezzii, Cavalieri and, of course, Monteverdi.

Pichon’s instrumental ensemble and choir Pygmalion do him proud in stories that feature all the usual suspects of Renaissance music Apollo, Orfeo and mortal lovers in search of a good time. From the outset with Malvezzi’s O fortnato giorno the Pygmalion singers serve up a rich feast of polyphony. And their full-rounded tone and evident commitment is matched by a cast of young soloists. Lucile Richardot taps into deep emotions in Peri’s death of Eurydice and the three tenors are equally touching in Monteverdi’s Lamento della Ninfa.

If only the camera work on this DVD had found a comparable sense of style to match this music-making. There are awkward shots of soloists half masked by their conductor and there is no visual sense of the relationship between the players and the choir. It’s unfortunate too that the splendour of the Gallerie de Glaces at Versailles is scarcely to be seen: Le Brun’s painted ceiling is penumbral and despite the chandeliers we mostly see this concert through a glass darkly. Christopher Cook