Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Monteverdi
ALBUM TITLE: Monteverdi
WORKS: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
PERFORMER: Fernando Guimarães, Jennifer Rivera, Aaron Sheehan, Leah Wool, João Fernandes, Owen McIntosh, Sonja DuToit Tengblad, Ulysses Thomas, Marc Molomot; Boston Baroque/ Martin Pearlman


In 1640 Monteverdi produced this masterpiece based on Homer’s Odyssey. It has 18 named characters in total, so it needs a cast that has strength in depth – a requirement that this performance cannot quite match. Fernando Guimarães as the returning hero Ulisse provides a dramatic and fluid account despite occasional lapses in vocal focus, while Jennifer Rivera (as his long-suffering wife Penelope) is characterful and nimble, if rather dry in tone. Leah Wool as the goddess Minerva has the finest music in the opera: she has an agile voice, but it lacks brightness – a quality needed especially in those scenes where she emerges from a disguise to reveal herself as divine.

The most impressive performance comes from Aaron Sheehan (as Ulisse’s son Telemaco) whose light lyrical voice delivers the music with utter naturalness. Owen McIntosh (as the suitor Pisandro), Fernandes (as Nettuno) and Marc Monolot as Iro, are also good. The servants Melanto and Eurimaco ought to provide comic relief, but here their voices cannot project humour nor be flirtatious.


The surviving 17th-century score in Venice is lacking details of instrumentation and some scenes are missing their music. This new performing version by Martin Pearlman provides a few extra instrumental accompaniments (especially effective in Act I when Penelope calls for Ulisse to return) but no new music for the missing scenes. In general this is a fairly effective performance, though Harnoncourt’s cast is better (on Teldec), and the version by William Christie on DVD (Dynamic) is superb. Anthony Pryer