Monteverdi Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
Furio Zanasi, Lucile Richardot, Krystian Adam, Hana Blažíková; Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria SDG 730 184:30 mins (3 discs)
John Eliot Gardiner’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria is a career climax, and a defining production. In 2017, for the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth, Gardiner organised and toured a ‘staged-concert’ trilogy of Monteverdi operas: L’Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and L’incoronazione di Poppea. Gardiner had yet to record Il ritorno d’Ulisse; so engineers forged this single disc from his three-night run at Wrocław’s concert hall. In incandescent performances, the artists turn the opera’s challenges into strengths. Early librettos show that much of Monteverdi’s original score is lost; these holes Gardiner plugs with earlier Monteverdi choruses and dances, accompanied by a band twice the size of the 1639-40 original, to gorgeous effect.
Faced with lots of recitative and practically no arias, singers and players abandon themselves to intense arioso, jazzy cross-rhythms between poetry and continuo, and take-no-prisoners dissonances. Furio Zanasi (Ulisse), Lucile Richardot (Penelope) and Hana Blažíková (Minerva) bring a depth of acting almost without rival. As Penelope rejects her horrid suitors, Richardot’s dark hues and jagged delivery sound her grief – her longing for Ulisse, her doubt he’ll return, her desperation at being forced to remarry. Zanasi equals her in vocal expressiveness: savage as he vanquishes foes, tenderly sensual as he reveals his identity to Penelope. Embodying the goddess who resolves dilemmas, Blažíková is all warmth, strength and radiant beauty. Although the acoustic of Wrocław’s concert hall is world-class, this is a live performance: the broadness of comic delivery in particular makes for tough listening, and the super-percussive consonants sometimes disrupt lyricism. Too bad this CD isn’t a DVD.