The last time I reviewed a recording of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo was ten years ago and it included Jordi Savali with La Capella Real de Catalunya and Le Concert des Nations. Oddly enough they also figure in a recording made last year at the Opéra Comique in Paris. Pauline Bayle’s production though is very different from the very HIP Liceu version.
It’s more or less abstract. Acts 1 and 2 take place on a stage bare except for lots of flowers. Acts 3 and 4 take place on a bare black stage. There’s something that is probably supposed to be Euridice’s grave in Act 5. Costumes are extremely simple. Almost the only staging/design devices I noticed were that all the inhabitants of Hades are hairless and there’s an interesting take on Cerberus. So basically what we get are patterns of simply dressed singers (plus a few well used dancers) moving across an almost bare stage. It sounds like it could be deadly dull but it isn’t. Bayle actually creates interesting stage pictures and effective story telling with her very limited pallet.
It’s also musically rather good. Savali’s band and chorus have the right sound for this music. Sometimes it’s quite abrasive, sometimes grand, sometimes jazzy. I think Monteverdi would have recognised it. The soloists are good too. Much of the burden falls on Marc Mauillon as Orfeo./. He’s interesting. He can sing beautifully but quite often chooses to produce a sound that is less easy on the ear which is, dramatically, fair enough. Luciana Mancini has a nice, full mezzo which works equally well for Euridice and La Musica. Salvo Vitale is a properly dark bass as Caronte and Plutone and Marianne Beate Kielland is appealing as Proserpina and stately as Spreranza. Oddly enough Furio Zanasi; Orfeo on the earlier recording, makes a suitably grave cameo appearance here as Apollo. There’s also a brief appearance for Sara Mingardo as the Messaggiera.
The only tricky thing to film here is Cerberus appearing from the gloom at the beginning of Act 3 and that’s handled well. The rest of the production offers nothing to challenge François Roussillon who films it simply and effectively.
The Blu-ray picture and sound (the usual DTS-HD and PCM stereo options) are both fine. There are no extras but the booklet has a full track listing, synopsis and a useful short historical background note. Subtitle options are English, German, Italian, French, Korean and Japanese.
This is a pretty good way to explore this work which was not designed for a lavish stage. It’s simple, direct and musically satisfying.
Catalogue number: Naxos Blu-ray NBD0152V