10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
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The minimalist staging of Robert Wilson's opera productions is not something that is to everyone's taste, but it is certainly unique and idiosyncratic, and no matter how familiar you are with a particular opera, you can be sure that Wilson's stage direction will provide a new way of looking at a piece and bring out elements or propose ideas that you might never have considered before. It is however not suited to every kind of opera. His production for Aida several years ago at the Royal Opera House was visually striking in its beauty and in the wondrous and carefully considered colour-coded light schemes, but the static nature of the production simply sucked the life out of one particular opera that merits a slightly more vibrant approach, if not necessarily always quite as flamboyant as Zeffirelli's.
On the other hand, the stripped-down staging works better, it seems to me, when applied to more abstract subjects or at least the more archetypal matters of Greek mythology in opera seria and Baroque opera. Wilson's work for the Paris Châtelet productions of Alceste and Orphée et Eurydice, for example, is appropriate and perfectly in accordance with Gluck's reforming of over-elaborate and long-winded opera. The same should apply, one would think, to Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, the work that is considered the first opera proper - first performed in Mantua in 1607 - and, for many, the model to which opera should aspire. All the huge archetypes are there in its mythological subject - Heaven and Hades, with Eros, Fate, Hope and, most significantly, Music itself personified and indeed the main narrative force who introduces and tells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, as well as the means by which the opera expresses itself.
This is the kind of material that is perfect for Robert Wilson's interpretations, and all the familiar characteristics of his approach are here in this production for La Scala in 2009 - static figures making strange poses with enigmatic hand movements, stage props reduced to geometric shapes, the colour scheme a limited palette of greys, pale blues and pale green. In contrast to his non-specific approach to Orphée et Eurydice, L'Orfeo is practically period - in the period of Monteverdi, that is - inspired by Titian's Venus with Cupid and an Organist (1548), with Thrace a Renaissance version of the Garden of Eden, by way perhaps of Gainsborough. On a first viewing, I'm not convinced that such a staging brings anything new from Monteverdi's famous opera this time, but it is interesting and worth considering.
As for the opera and its performance, well, L'Orfeo is a masterpiece that does indeed wield a heavy influence over the artform, or for at least a hundred and fifty years afterwards. It's a celebration of man's ability, intellect and ingenuity, taming nature and the seas, speaking with the voice of the Gods through music and, through Orpheus, even challenging Death itself through his singing and its expression of the finest human passions and sentiments. It's a worthy subject for what is generally considered the first opera - an artform that would unite so many artistic qualities, not least of which is music and singing. Monteverdi's opera accordingly lives up to the high standards it sets.
L'Orfeo is more detailed in its scoring and specification of instruments than Monteverdi's final opera Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria, for example, but how it is performed is highly interpretative nonetheless. Early music specialist Rinaldo Alessandrini's conducting of the opera of La Scala is therefore not for me to criticise, but I would find it hard to find any serious fault with it other than the actual sound mix not quite having the transparency of other versions I've heard - notably the Pierre Audi Netherlands Opera recording at the Muziektheater in Amsterdam. I would however state a preference for John Mark Ainsley's lyrical Orpheus in that version over the rather deeper tenor of Georg Nigl. The contrasts and differences should be appreciated however, as it is through them that new thoughts and ideas still arise out of an opera that is now over 400 years old - and on that basis, this is a fine production.
The quality of the presentation on the Opus Arte Blu-ray is as good as you would expect, with a clear 16:9 High Definition transfer, PCM Stereo and DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1 mixes. The only extras on the disc however are a Cast Gallery and an Illustrated Synopsis. The thin booklet presents some background on the history of the opera, but there is no information at all on the production itself.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
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... with this production of Monteverdi's "Orfeo". The stage is too big for it, or at least for the blue-light stasis of this version of it. Everything in the mythic drama becomes diffuse and bland, like a Wagner opera seen through heavy fog. And the La Scala orchestra, even with the support of the best continuo in town, doesn't have a clue of early Baroque performance practices, even with the masterful Rinaldo Alessandrini conducting. Against the whooshy colors of a modern 'symphonic' pit, the singers can't commit themselves to Monteverdi's "affect". You'd think that conservatory-trained instrumentalists employed by a major opera house, with a Baroque specialist conducting them, could adapt to suitable Baroque style, but perhaps you really can't teach "old dogs new tricks."
This is the next-to-least satisfactory of the six productions of Orfeo available on DVD. The least satisfactory is the oldest, the flamboyantly costumed Zurich production by Harnoncourt/Ponelle; that was a heroic door-opener in its time, but the musical values are very weak. The best, to my ears and mind, is the Netherlands Opera production, directed by Pierre Audi and conducted by Stephen Stubbs. The recent production from Madrid, conducted by William Christie, is a delight to my ears but a perplexity to my mind.
7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
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To be irresponsibly brief, let me say that doing Monteverdi's chamber opera Orfeo--performed in 1607 in a room in the ducal palace in Mantua--on the scale of the La Scala stage poses challenges to any director in terms of movement within volume. When Robert Wilson staged Puccini's Butterfly and Wagner's Parsifal, his iconic style could work against huge surging, attention-dominating orchestral forces that spilled over bar-lines and through the souls of the singers on stage. Monteverdi's score has lively dances and text-connected solos in recitar cantando--speaking in a singing voice. Wilson adapted his usual glacial movement meant to represent congealed inner feeling, but the 1607 opera is all about verbal ex-pression, not repression. (The signature 90-degree head snap from Einstein on the Beach is here, too.) The result of Wilson's familiar stylization here is, oddly enough, not "modern" or "moderne" at all, but an external, early 20th-century, monumentalizing of the work that only fills it with cold air and slow, symmetrical friezes that no amount of energy pumped in by Alessandrini can animate. Think of Emily Dickinson stretched horizontally to Whitmanesque size.
The chorus does not really dance. And don't ask about the chimp or the white rabbits.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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Theatrical styles clash across a 400-year gulf in this Opus Arte DVD of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo, shot at La Scala. American director/designer Robert Wilson applies his trademark minimalist style to this opera, the oldest work from the Italian renaissance to remain in the repertory today. But fear not. If you can't stand the visuals, turn off the TV and run your player through the stereo. This is a beautiful performance.
Monteverdi's setting of the Orpheus myth is the oldest work in the repertory--a stark retelling of the story that combined dance, solo singing and skilled choral writing in a way that would prove enduring for the next four centuries. First performed in Mantua at the court of the Duke of Gonzaga in 1607, L'Orfeo proved instantly popular. Conceived as an entertainment for the nobility, it was soon discovered to resonate with the common man, sowing the seed for the entire operatic genre.
L'Orfeo takes place on the fields of Thrace and in the underworld below. Mr. Wilson chose a painting by Titian (well actually, a small bit of the background from Venus and Music) to create a Greek grove that, by his standards, qualifies as an actual set. the second act takes place mostly in the dark.There is not much action, but by the standards set by this director's Wagner productions or his work with Philip Glass, this staging is positively hyperactive.
If you've ever seen a Wilson show, you know what to expect. The cast moves about the stage in the trademark "Wilson pose" (one arm extended and one elbow bent, the feet paced slowly and evenly.) They turn slowly, their hands rigid under colored lights and their faces corpse-like under greasepaint. The proceedings have a ritualistic sense which suits the mythic subject matter, and the slowed movements suit the melodic lines in the score.
They may be moving like kabuki actors, but this is still La Scala, and the singing is up to the standard of that famous opera house. Austrian baritone Georg Nigl is better known for singingWozzeck. Although he produces firm melodic lines, he does not sound idiomatic and is handicapped by the director's demand for a lack of facial expressions. However, his grief comes across, and the scene with bass Luigi Di Donato as Charonte is memorable. That ferryman can't resist a good tune. Giovanni Battista Parodi is even lower and more resonant as Plutone, and looks a bit like David Daniels.
The female singers are mostly strong. Roberta Invernizzi is impressive as Euridice, especially when she bids farewell to Orfeo at the opera's end. Sara Mingardo sings prettily as Sylvia, and then rocks a great dress as La Speranza (Hope), Orfeo's guide through the black void of Mr. Wilson's stage design. That character has little to do, but Ms. Mingardo rocks a great dress out of a Tim Burton movie. Mention must also be made of the superb La Scala chorus, who cope admirably with the strange stage direction and reveal themselves to be a flexible, compelling ensemble singing with precision and snap.
Monteverdi does not make things easier for the conductor, requiring two separate orchestral groups (strings and brass) as well as a e continuo group that does much of the heavy lifting. The players in the first two groups are from the La Scala orchestra. Traditional side drum, wooden flutes, slide trumpets and sackbuts (early, narrow-bore trombones) create an appropriate Renaissance atmosphere. Rinaldo Allessandrini, leading his new, critical edition of the score, conducts all these ensembles with a vivid, pin-point style that makes for compelling listening. Too bad it's not released on CD.