This 'L'Orfeo' from a 1997 production of the Netherlands Opera has much to recommend it. It has a marvelous cast of singers, including perhaps the best Orfeo I've ever seen/heard in tenor John Mark Ainsley. The single set is very plain except for the round pool of water upstage. It represents, of course, in Act III, the River Styx. Much of the rest of the time it is either invisible, because of the exceedingly skillful lighting by Jean Kalman, or used for various symbolic purposes; the stage is often in darkness, a contrast with high-key lighting on the singers. Costumes are stylized robes in rich colors and fabrics. 'L'Orfeo' is, of course, an opera in which there is not much action, and stage director Pierre Audi has devised a good deal of action, particularly with the chorus, but also with the principals, that keeps them in motion much of the time. Visually this is interesting, even if the movements are often unmotivated by the characters' emotions or the sung text. In a sense this is a feast for the eyes as well as for the ears.
As for the musical presentation, it could hardly be bettered. 'L'Orfeo' presents significant musical challenges just in its realization because Monteverdi's score is so sparse in its specifications for instrumentation, harmonies and so on. This is a subtle realization by Stephen Stubbs, the musical director, and indeed he spends several pages in the DVD's booklet explaining some of his choices. He also speaks at length about this in the informative 'extra', a twenty minute documentary made during rehearsals for the production. The instrumental group is comprised of Tragicomedia (strings) and Concerto Palatino (brass), two ensembles well known in the arena of baroque music.
There is not a single weak singer (or actor, for that matter) in the production. Ainsley is an excellent singer in all repertoire he has essayed, but seems particularly so here. His long scene, 'Possente spirto', in Act III where he is trying to coax Charon to allow him into Hades to rescue and bring back to Earth his beloved Euridice, contains some of the most far-ranging virtuosic singing one will ever encounter in early opera, and Ainsley does it beautifully. It might also be pointed out that the scene's instrumental accompaniment (primarily organ and chitarrone) is varied meaningfully by interjections by other instruments -- violins, cornets, harp in all possible combinations -- to great effect.
Outstanding among the other singers are Juanita Lascarro as Euridice, Brigitte Balleys as La Messagiera, the impish tenor Russell Smythe as one of the Shepherds (and also as Apollo), countertenors David Cordier and Michael Chance as La Musica and La Speranza respectively, the appropriately cavernous-voiced basso Mario Luperi (what a voice!) as Charon, the glorious contralto Bernarda Fink as Proserpine. Also of note are bass Jean-Paul Fouchécourt as a Shepherd (and also as Echo), bass Dean Robinson as another Shepherd (and as Pluto). The cast is also notable for its general physical attractiveness.
There are a couple of other 'Orfeos' on DVD and this one, in my opinion, is the best musically and certainly the most visually effective, if a bit stylized (be warned, if that bothers you). I recommend it without reservation.
2 DVDs; TT=140 minutes; sung in Italian with subtitles in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian and Dutch; LPCM Stereo