Monteverdi: Orfeo

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: BBC Opus Arte
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: Orfeo
PERFORMER: Montserrat Figueras, Furio Zanasi, Arianna Savall; La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Le Concert des Nations/Jordi Savall; dir. Gilbert Deflo (Gran Teatro del Liceu, Barcelona, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: OA 0842 D
You almost don’t need this DVD. So compellingly did Alessandro Striggio hone the Orpheus story into a prologue and five acts and so vividly did Monteverdi set it that you just need to look up a few Italian words, shut your eyes and you’re in Arcadia and Hades. To watch it, I for one expect something special.

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The obvious something – great singing – isn’t on offer here. This is a Savall family do, with Montserrat Figueras inimitably idiosyncratic as La musica – but, spookily, pretty convincingly imitated by her daughter Arianna Savall as Euridice. Other regulars from the ‘Latin Reconquest of Early Music’ include Sara Mingardo’s lacerating Messenger and, in the title role, Furio Zanasi. Despite the moniker he’s not quite heroic enough, physically or vocally (to be fair, this was taped live – apparently at one show). The chorus is fabulous, though, and the band ravishing, with a typically Savallian dance finale – and it’s mostly well recorded (though I couldn’t put the five-channel DTS sound to the test).

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The other something is the staging – and this is special. It’s childish, I know, but I’d love to have seen Orfeo in Mantua in 1607. Harnoncourt on a Decca VHS has some better singing (lip-synched), but Ponnelle’s staging is fussy Seventies kitsch. Here, director Gilbert Deflo magicks Barcelona’s 19th-century theatre at once into private chamber in ducal palazzo and antique utopia. Start with his excellent off-the-cuff piece to camera and then be stunned by the beautiful set, painted and lit as if by the other Claude; by the simple, sexy Renaissance Arcadian costumes; and, most of all, by the slow, subtle gestures. And on the podium, Jordi Savall looks totally the part, dressed as Monteverdi himself. Nick Morgan