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Willem Jeths: Ritratto

Dutch National Opera; Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Geoffrey Paterson (Challenge Classics)

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

Willem Jeths
Verity Wingate, Martin Mkhize, Frederik Bergman, Paride Cataldo, Dominic Kraemer, Lucas van Lierop, Cameron Shahbazi; Dutch National Opera; Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Geoffrey Paterson
Challenge CC 72849   88:24 mins


An invitation to an opera that promises a party is not to be sneezed at! As Willem Jeths discovers in his third music drama, Ritratto (Portrait), parties are an elegant way of introducing assorted characters, and a perfect excuse for bad behaviour. (Think no further than Flora’s Party in La traviata, or more recently Thomas Adès The Exterminating Angel.)

Jeths and his librettist Frank Siera’s hostess is the fabulously rich Marchese Luisa Casati, who with the help of the early 20th-century avant-garde, including D’Annunzio, Diaghilev, Marinetti and Man Ray, intends to make herself a work of art. Unfortunately the Great War marches through her salon, although Casati partly lives out her ambition by embellishing her portrait with her own eyes and breasts as it’s being painted by Romaine Brooks.

Jeths’s story about the meaning and purpose of art is a powerful and accomplished piece of music theatre. His own post-modernist style helps, with fragments of Ravel’s La Valse, hints of Tristan and Salome, and even Tchaikovsky’s letter scene drifting through a comfortably tonal score. There are well-crafted arias for the principals, most notably a Puccinian outpouring for D’Annunzio in Scene II and Luisa’s lament in Scene IV introduced with more than a hint of Tosca.

It’s invidious to single out individuals from the young cast, many of them members of the Dutch National Opera Studio, but Verity Wingate is compelling as Luisa, and Paride Cataldo’s posturing D’Annunzio all but steals the show. Laurels, too, for Geoffrey Patterson who conducts the Amsterdam Sinfonietta with complete conviction.


Christopher Cook