Monteverdi: L’Orfeo

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Opus Arte
WORKS: L’Orfeo
PERFORMER: Georg Nigl, Roberta Invernizzi, Sara Mingardo; Orchestra of the Scala Theatre; Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini; dir. Robert Wilson (Milan, 2009)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 1044 D

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The first great opera, the notes call it: Monteverdi inspired ‘to righteous prayer’ by Striggio’s libretto on Ovid’s morality tale. Rinaldo Alessandrini conducts as though it’s the words that drive him too, and the colour and sensuality of Monteverdi’s madrigals. Director Robert Wilson takes his minimalist inspiration from a Titian painting, Venus with Eros and an Organist, and delivers a series of starkly-lit tableaux – strong geometric shapes framing the highly-stylised gestures of the cast. 

The drama comes from Alessandrini’s edition and the bite and brilliance of the La Scala orchestra, and Concerto Italiano’s inventive continuo section. On stage, by contrast, it’s stilted movement, frozen faces and white-gloved mime. It’s a small but formidable cast, with Roberta Invernizzi doubling as Eurydice and Music, and Sara Mingardo as Hope and the Messenger. Luigi De Donata’s Charon supplies the most striking image, his sinister silhouette barring Orpheus’s way to Hades as he sings over a reedy organ. As Orpheus, Georg Nigl stands out a little awkwardly in the otherwise Italian cast, uneasy with Monteverdi’s agonising harmonies as he loses Eurydice a second time. Invernizzi’s response as she’s sent back to the shadows puts Orpheus in the shade.

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John Mark Ainsley, Dietrich Henschel or Simon Keenlyside are all Orfeos I’d rather hear again from DVD, but is there a vision for L’Orfeo that bears repetition? For me, it isn’t Robert Wilson’s still life. The second time around, I switched off the screen and basked in excellent surround sound. Visually, the pin-sharp definition of Blu-ray definitely delivers against the muddy compromise of the NTSC DVD. The extras are poor. Andrew McGregor