Emiliano Gonzalez Toro (tenor), Emöke Baráth (soprano), Natalie Perez (mezzo-soprano), Jerome Varnier (bass), et al; Ensemble Vocal de Poche; I Gemelli
Naïve V7176 86:12 mins (2 discs)
Some recent recordings of Monteverdi’s earliest opera (for example by René Jacobs and Emmanuelle Haïm) have drawn on French performance traditions, and this one, despite the Chilean background of the tenor-conductor Emiliano Toro, is another. The result is sprightly orchestral playing, textures absolutely dripping with ornamentation and a proclivity for highly varied speeds. By contrast the singers here (several of whom have worked with William Christie of Les Arts Florissants fame) keep unwritten ornamentation to a minimum. The one impressive exception is provided by the splendid and arresting singing of the Prologue by Emőke Baráth.
Emiliano Toro brings an easy fluency to the role of Orfeo, and he presents the central aria ‘Possente Spirto’ with great aplomb. His capacity for dramatic passion, though, is not much in evidence and, as with many others in this role, he manages to make his reaction to the news of Euridice’s death (‘Ohime, che odo?’) sound like mild indifference.
In general the cast is good, with especially outstanding performances from Mathilde Etienne (as Proserpina) and Jêróme Varnier (as Caronte). Some instrumental items seem misjudged – for example in Act I, the instrumental ritornello before ‘Alcun non sia’ should represent a stately procession to the temple, not some kind of languid saunter. And the choral ballet ‘Lasciate i monti’ is too hectic for anything but an Irish Jig by Riverdance. It is still hard to beat the 1990 John Eliot Gardiner recording on Archiv.