Il ritorno di Ulisse in Patria (DVD)
Charles Workman, Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani, Delphine Galou, John Daszak, Francesco Milancese, Marina de Liso, Elornara Belloci, Arianna Vendittelli, Gianluca Margheri; Accademia Bizantina/Ottavio Dantone; dir. Robert Carsen (Florence, 2021)
Dynamic DVD: 37927; Blu-ray: 57927 165 mins
Monteverdi wrote this opera in 1640 for the public opera houses that had first opened in Venice three years earlier. It is a Greek story about the return of Ulysses from the Trojan War to his faithful wife Penelope. As such, it echoes slightly the academic origins of opera in Greek drama with its emphasis on declaimed narrative rather than lyrical arias and duets – though there is comic contrast in the scenes between the two servants Melanto and Eurimaco (delightfully characterised by Miriam Albano and Hugo Hymas).
The stars of the show are Charles Workman as Ulysses and Arianna Vendittelli as the goddess Minerva. Workman has real stage presence and can colour his voice to convey bravura, tenderness, reflectiveness and much else. Vendittelli’s sound is bright and warm. In Act I her voice sparkles and flashes as she sonically and physically transforms from a mere mortal into a radiant goddess. (The actual physical transformation is poorly handled on stage.)
Delphine Galou rather disappoints as Penelope. Her singing is fluid but somewhat blank and hollow, and she acts as if she is giving information rather than fully feeling the drama. Additionally the cavernous stage and sombre lighting of the Pergola opera house in Florence do not aid communications here. We must turn to two DVD recordings by William Christie to sense the marvelous depth and power of this opera – one in 2002 from Aix-en-Provence (Virgin Classics) and the other in 2010 from the Teatro Real, Madrid (on Dynamic).