WORKS: L’anima del filosofo, ossia Orfeo ed Euridice
PERFORMER: Cecilia Bartoli, Uwe Heilmann, Ildebrando D’ArcangeloAcademy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood
CATALOGUE NO: 452 668-2
This was Haydn’s last opera, written in London in 1791 but not performed until 1951 in Florence. Orfeo is Haydn’s setting of a libretto by Badini, based on Ovid, which differs substantially from the well-known version by Gluck of some thirty years earlier. It is not certain whether the opera is complete, but it is a gloriously inviting treasure-chest of Haydn. On closer inspection there are some curiously disjointed sentences and plot alongside exquisite vocal and orchestral writing.
Hogwood takes Haydn at his word, that ‘all the gods of heaven and hell turn up in the Overture’ and sweeps us into the action with intense drive. The accompanied recitatives are stunning, the choral writing powerful and diverse. The chorus as Cupids in Act II and the Voices of the Unburied Dead in Act IV is characterful and potent. D’Arcangelo copes well with Creonte’s three arias, slightly straining in the declamatory delivery against the trumpets at the end of Act II. Bartoli, in Euridice’s cavatina mio core il voto estremo’, is powerfully reflective. Her coloratura sections can seem like rapid gunfire, perfectly aimed and executed but too deliberately calculated to thrill the listener. Bartoli’s brilliance is truly unleashed in Genio’s bravura aria ‘Al tuo seno fortunato’ in Act III. The tessitura for the tenor Orfeo takes several extraordinary low turns which are difficult to bring off. Heilmann, as Orfeo, is not consistently in tune but his Act I ‘Cara speme!’ is warm and focused and he is immensely moving in his death scene.
There’s much to recommend this disc but there are alternatives on the Orfeo and Deutsche Harmonia Mundi labels.