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Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria

Rolando Villazón et al; dir. Mariame Clément (Paris, 2017) Erato (DVD)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Monteverdi Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (DVD)
Rolando Villazón, Magdalena Kožená, Katherine Watson, Kresimir Spicer, Anne-Catherine Gillet, Isabelle Druet, Maarten Engeltjes, Callum Thorpe, Lothar Odinius, Jean Teitgen, Mathias Vidal, Emiliano Gonzalez Toro, Jörg Schneider, Elodie Méchain; Le Concert d’Astrée/Emmanuelle Haim; dir. Mariame Clément (Paris, 2017)
Erato 9029573812 197 mins

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In this 2017 production of Monteverdi’s Ulisse staged at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, the gods drink beer and play darts in the Olympus pub; Neptune’s a sea-dog, Minerva’s a bitch, and Jupiter’s a senior hippie. Back down on earth, the glutton Irus scoffs burgers while Telemachus sports sixties hair and denims. Melantho’s a sexy soubrette, Euriclea a frumpy Renaissance nurse. Nymphs become mardi-gras showgirls, the suitors posture in tuxedos, and the hedonistic Phaeacians don togas, play with beach balls and lark about on a cardboard cut-out boat. Confused? You will be, in Mariame Clément’s ‘pop vision’ of the opera which muddles historical periods and genres in an attempt to convey the works’s timeless universality. Despite some comic potential, the production often falls flat – perhaps because it ultimately lacks integrity.

Among the chaos, Magdalena Kožená retains her dignity, pouring heady ardour into the role of Penelope (though her vibrato occasionally fogs the words). Making his debut in the role of Ulysses, Rolando Villazón sounds ill at ease (though given the absurdity of his costume, it’s hardly surprising) – his approach more suited to bel canto than recitar cantando. There are, of course, moments of expressive beauty, but his upper register sounds tense and there’s an occasional rasp to the voice. More successful are the two tenors playing the smaller roles of Eumaeus and Telemachus: Kresimir Spicer shapes the former’s pastoral lines with supple phrasing and velvet tones, and Mathias Vidal is aptly fresh-voiced and agile as Ulysses’ son. Mention should also be made of Anne-Catherine Gillet who doubles as Cupid and Minerva, her silvery tones and bubbly stage presence lending sparkling character to both. Emmanuelle Haïm conducts with real vim, coaxing animated, sharply articulated playing from her period ensemble as well as moments of seductive interplay between voices and instruments.

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Kate Bolton‐Porciatti