Cyril Auvity, Hannah Morrison, Paul Agnew, Miriam Allan, Lea Desandre, Carlo Vistoli, Sean Clayton, Zachary Wilder; Les Arts Florissants/Paul Agnew; dir. Paul Agnew (Caen, 2017)
Harmonia Mundi HMD 9809062-63
British tenor Paul Agnew tackles an operatic triathlon here, as soloist (in the roles of Eco and Apollo), and as both musical and stage director of this new production of L’Orfeo filmed at the Théâtre de Caen. His mise en scène paints a series of pastoral tableaux with apt simplicity – a welcome change from the anachronisms directors often impose on early opera (though the singers’ actions would have benefitted from a little more direction). Alain Blanchot’s billowing, draping costumes recall Nicolas Poussin’s paintings of Orpheus and Eurydice, and of fanciful Arcadian shepherds swathed in pastel robes. Christophe Naillet’s lighting, too, has the lustrous quality of an oil painting; indeed, much of the success of this production lies in its artistic use of oppositions of light and dark to enhance the opera’s themes.
Echoing performances from Monteverdi’s day, instrumentalists are integrated into the action, playing and moving midst the spare, elemental set against which they are sometimes backlit as if in an ancient shadow play. Their direct interaction with the singers produces an intimate, chamber-like performance, more madrigalian than operatic. Notable among the soloists is Cyril Auvity (Orfeo), whose agile, fervent, tremulous tenor spans the gamut of emotion, from joy to desolation, without ever sounding overblown or histrionic. Hannah Morrison is sweet-toned as Euridice and La Musica, while Lea Desandre (Messaggiera/Speranza) really captures the narrational essence of Monteverdi’s stile recitativo with just the right balance of grace and power. Finally, in his brief but memorable appearance as the deus ex machina Apollo, Agnew pours a soothing balm of honeyed tones over Orpheus’s grief. The recorded sound is transparent and detailed.