Monteverdi: L’Orfeo

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
LABELS: Glossa
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: L’Orfeo

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PERFORMER: Emanuela Galli, Mirko Guadagnini, Marina de Liso;
Ensemble La Venexiana/Claudio Cavina

CATALOGUE NO: GES 920913-E
Monteverdi’s early operatic masterpiece is handsomely presented here as a hardback book containing three essays and the libretto, with the discs slipped inside the covers. La Venexiana have been a long time coming to this. They have already recorded most of Monteverdi’s madrigal books, but can they measure up to his dramatic challenges?

The short answer is: not quite. The group has presented the work live (at an early music festival in London in May, and elsewhere), but the complications of a stage delivery seem to have left them with a slightly sluggish pace (20 minutes slower than the Haïm/Bostridge 2004 version on Virgin).

We do get terrific fluency in the recitatives – as one might expect from an Italian cast – but the tuning can be poor, as in ‘Che poi che nembo’ (Act I). Given their madrigal experience, the chorus seem oddly unconfident (‘Lasciati monti’) or unaware (as in a perky ‘Nulla impresa’ sung by Underworld spirits).

Emanuela Galli (Euridice/La Musica) is splendid in voice and emotion and Mirko Guadagnini (Orfeo) is arresting in the low-lying lamenting sections of Act V but rather dry in the upper range.

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The other principals are fairly good. The instrumental accompaniments are ingenious, as in ‘Dove te’n vai’ (Act IV) where the plucked strings brilliantly suggest the disintegration of Orfeo as he loses Euridice for the second time. This is not a prize-winning version, and the 1987 Gardiner recording yet again provides the benchmark. Pierre Audi’s DVD version (on Opus Arte, reviewed December 2005) is brilliant. Anthony Pryer