Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Arthaus
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
PERFORMER: Vesselina Kasarova, Dietrich Henschel; La Scintilla Orchestra/Nikolaus Harnoncourt; dir. Klaus-Michael Grüber (Zürich Opera, 2002)
CATALOGUE NO: 100 352
Nikolaus Harnoncourt has been conducting this work for 35 years now; his approach is still fresh and combines the anarchy of period-instrument attack (listen to the harsh continuo chords in Act II while the rivals for Penelope’s hand attempt to string Ulysses’s bow) with a flowing, lush lyricism that can even rival Raymond Leppard’s earlier, Romantic Monteverdi realisations. Only the tempi have slowed. The work with the cast – and the overall singing standard – is of festival quality.

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On-stage, Klaus-Michael Grüber presents a fairly conventional narrative reading, subtly modernised by Eva Dessecker’s costumes to a non-specific comtemporary Greek location. A revolving stage permits a constant variety of image through Gilles Aillaud’s sparse but attractively coloured scenery. The male gods are gently Brechtianised – youngish guys in shabby suits wearing Father Christmas-like beards and whiskers – and those most unsuitable suitors are puppets manipulated by their singers, pulled around in a circus tent by the glutton Iro. As the long-parted bridal pair, Vesselina Kasarova and Dietrich Henschel are disciplined to the point of underplaying, but only the final scene is lacking in the passion that Jonas Kaufmann so effortlessly finds in their son Telemaco. Fine sound, and good to see such a recent production on DVD, but Arthaus’s booklet (yet again) is a skimpy mess. Mike Ashman