This box set assembles the complete Monteverdi recordings that William Christie and Les Arts Florissants made for harmonia mundi over some fifteen years. Together, they constantly refreshed their inspiration at the wellspring of his finest and most famous madrigals, with a memorable incursion into the sacred repertory of the Selva morale.
The Sicilian nobleman Sigismondo d'India was roughly contemporary with Monteverdi (both began their careers around 1600); the musical ferment of that period led, in d'India's case, to a very heady brew. His madrigals–duets, solos and five-voice works–are like inebriated Monteverdi: d'India set the Italian poetic texts (usually dealing with a lover's pain) with even less regard for academic counterpoint and even more surprising twists of harmony than did his more-famous colleague, yet the music never veers into the disorienting, seemingly willful weirdness of Gesualdo.
Ulisse was one of the first operas to be written for the public stage, not for royalty. Monteverdi was in his seventies when he wrote it, yet it is a work of intense and youthful passion, as well as wisdom. At nearly three hours (in this version, anyway), it demands a lot from its audience, and seeing it at home via DVD is a great way to make its acquaintance.
This production dates from 2000; this particular live performance was recorded in the fairly intimate Théâtre de Jeu de Palme in 2002. The production is simple but eloquent.
"Last year we gave a performance here in the Teatro Real of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, this year we have Ulisse and next year Poppea. We’re no longer in Mantova and we’re no longer in the Court of the Prince. We’re in Venezia and essentially [at] the beginning of the public opera house. We’re also at the beginning of what will become opera seria, that’s to say beyond the instrumental colors, the great dances and the great pageants, [are] the beautiful effects of the singing, it’s bel-canto and so the orchestral accompaniment becomes simpler…"- from William Christie’s interview 2008 included on in the DVD
Familiar to UK audiences as a recitalist, Dietrich Henschel has been inexplicably neglected by this country's opera companies. You get a strong sense of what a theatrical animal he is, however, from his performance of the title role in this flawed but compelling production of L'Orfeo, filmed in Madrid last year. The subtlety of Henschel's acting matches the complexity of his vocal characterisation so that, by the end, you not only feel you've been taken on a vast journey from joy to grief and back again, but also believe that Orfeo's own music really has the power to affect both gods and nature…Tim Ashley
The culmination of a three-year Monteverdi project led by conductor William Christie and director Pier Luigi Pizzi at Madrid's Teatro Réal, L'incoronazione di Poppea brings a potent blend of sex and politics, high drama and comedy. Leading the cast are Danielle de Niese, Philippe Jaroussky, Max Emanuel Cencic and Anna Bonitatibus…