Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Challenge Classics
WORKS: L’Orfeo
PERFORMER: Ellen Hargis, Suzie Le Blanc, Ann Hallenberg, Anne Grimm, Harry van der Kamp; Teatro Lirico/Stephen Stubbs
Sixty-five years after Monteverdi’s Orfeo and 90 before Gluck’s Orfeo ed Euridice, the Venetian composer Antonio Sartorio’s account of the myth (1672) takes an unexpected slant. Maddened by jealousy that turns to grief, this Orfeo plots to murder his wife (an insight into why she is snatched back?) in a libretto that inflates the story with elaborate, sometimes comic subplots involving, among others, Achilles, Hercules, Bacchus, Thetis and the centaur Chiron (all Greek mythology is here!). But all this scarcely matters, for the score is both ingenious and delightful, the characters imaginatively projected in a succession of 50-odd arias that are both melodically affecting and evocatively marry words and music.


Profoundly obscure, the opera was revived at the 1998 Utrecht Early Music Festival, at which this revelatory live recording was made. The conductor/lutenist Stephen Stubbs inspires clean, vibrant and incisive playing from his Baroque orchestra, Teatro Lirico, and superb singing from an international, largely female cast. (Orfeo, his brother Aristaeus and the young shepherd assassin are all travesti roles, though true to the comic conventions of the time, the nurse Erlinda is written for a tenor.) Outstanding among them is the Canadian soprano Suzie Le Blanc. Her purity of tone, the passion in her voice and her other-worldly ability to float top notes animate her Euridice with heartbreaking intensity, not least in the show-stopping lament, sparely accompanied by plangent strings, where her ghost appeals to her sleeping husband to rescue her from Hades’s dark abyss. Claire Wrathall