Director Gilbert Deflo was inspired by the Hall of Mirrors in the ducal palace in Mantua, scene of the first performance of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, to try and create something similar for the much larger Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona. The result is an almost extreme HIP approach. Sets, costumes, acting and singing style are all what we have come to expect from HIP performances of baroque works. In this case even the conductor and orchestra wear period dress which is quite effective as conductor Jordi Savali looks remarkably like Monteverdi. For reasons I don’t understand though the lighting plot is one that could never have been realised with baroque forces. To further advance the “hall of mirrors” idea Deflo makes quite a lot of use of mirrors on stage reflecting the house back on itself which doesn’t really come off on video but I imagine, based on my experience with the COC’s staging of Semele, that it could work well if one was in the right part of the theatre. There’s also a fair amount of characters entering via the auditorium including a dramatic entrance for Savali as the brass and percussion play the opening toccata from stage boxes.
Does it work? Yes and no. I find the staging to be a bit dull though it has it’s moments, notably the scene with Charon, which is nicely atmospheric. The static acting style I find deadly dull and the repetitive, slow, vocal line with an exaggerated “Monteverdi trill” wears a bit thin quite quickly. The large period orchestra (combined forces of Le Concert des Nations and La Capella Reial de Catalunya) sounds terrific though. There’s also some decent choreography, by baroque opera standards, and some very pretty dancers. The singing is consistently good and stylistically consistent. The standout is Furio Zanasi who, as Orfeo, keeps his end up through an awful lot of music. There’s a lot to please the serious baroque fan but it’s perhaps a bit snooze inducing for the non-specialist.
The video director is Brian Large who, I am becoming convinced, cannot be a real person but rather the Nicolas Bourbaki of videographers; such is his omnipresence. In this production we get rather less of the trademark Large closeups and a lot of very wide shots showing conductor and orchestra as well as, or instead of, the stage. Sometimes we even get the orchestra filmed from the stage. Actually it’s quite interesting and probably does reflect Deflo’s intentions quite well though on occasion it’s a bit disorienting.
The production for disk is excellent. The picture is the highest resolution I’ve seen on an opera DVD and the DTS 5.1 sound is well balanced and very vivid (optional LPCM stereo). There are English, French, German and Spanish subtitles. The bonus material includes a feature called L’Orfeo in Mantua in which Deflo explains his production concept, an illustrated cast gallery, which is handy for keeping track of all the gods and allegorical characters, and a synopsis.
I remember seeing this DVD as part of a class I took at UCLA on the history of Baroque music. I think I agree with everything you say. For a much more animated production, albeit a controversial one both visually and musically, I recommend Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s 17th-century-dress film version from the ’70s, conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt.
re: Brian Large is not a real person – I think you are on to something here . . .
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