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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Claudio MONDEVERDI (1567-1641)
L’Orfeo: Favola in Musica (1607)
Furio Zanasi (tenor), Orfeo
Sara Mingardo (mezzo-soprano), Messaggiera
Arianna Savall (soprano), Euridice
Cécile van de Sant (soprano), Speranza
Antonio Abete (bass), Caronte
Adriana Fernández (soprano), Proserpina
Daniele Carnovich (baritone), Plutone
Fulvio Bettini (tenor), Apollo
Montserrat Figueras (soprano), La musica
Mercedez Hernández (soprano), Ninfa
Marília Vargas (tenor), Eco
Gerd Turc, Francesc Garrigosa, Carlos Mena, Iván Garcia, Pastores
Le Concert de Nations, La Cappella Reial de Catalunya
Jordi Savall conductor
Recorded in Gran Teatre del Liceu, Barcelona, 2002
Stage Director, Gilbert Deflo Video direction by Brian Large
Bonus Material: Opera Synopsis, Commentary by Gilbert Deflo, Cast Gallery
Sung in Italian with subtitles in English, German, French, and Spanish
PAL 16:9 enhanced DTS 5.1 surround sound and 2.0 stereo
BBC - OPUS ARTE OA 0842D [140.00]
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Things start impressively with magisterial conductor Savall sweeping down the centre aisle of this gorgeous theatre in flowing black robes with the costumed renaissance band setting a brilliant and festive mood. However the first two persons to sing - La Musica (Montserrat Figueras) and Second Shepherd (Francesc Garrigosa), afflicted with pitch and timing problems - had me checking the clock to see how much of this was left to endure. Fortunately things got much better in a hurry. Starting with Shepherd IV, a superb counter-tenor, the singing from then on was faultless. Particularly to be mentioned are the Messagiera of Sara Mingardo and the Orpheus of Furio Zanasi, both of whom have difficult solo roles and both of whom magnificently carry the day as vocal actors. Whether those were real tears or good makeup on Ms. Mingardo’s face I don’t know, but my tears were real.

The musicians play superbly, and the period instruments not only sound good but look good, too. Curious to see modern trumpets and trombones in among the theorbos and sackbutts but with sound this beautiful who’s complaining? The choreography is excellent, not just in the dances but in the way the chorus moves and arranges itself on stage. Several of the solo dancers particularly distinguish themselves. Sets are grand in the baroque manner with floating clouds, Apollo on his chariot, lots and lots of mists and vapours, and a whole curtain of mirrors.

For once we have the chance to enjoy the curtain calls without the credits being rolled up over them. Montserrat Figueras, "La Musica," got a huge ovation from the audience, but then she is the conductor’s wife and a hometown girl made good. The star Furio Zanasi who sang and acted brilliantly in a long and difficult solo role got the cold shoulder from the audience for no reason I could ascertain. He was a true professional and covered his injury by smiling extra broadly and bowing extra deeply.

Even though the disk is labelled as 16:9 format, I could not get my DVD player to display it in wide-screen, nor could I get it to operate in surround sound, although the sound I did get was exceptionally clear and ambient. I also had a heck of a time getting rid of the Story Synopsis when what I wanted was the Main Menu. I suppose this is because my player is two years old and they are still playing with the DVD disc format.

There are at least three other Orfeos available on video of which I have seen only the Harnoncourt/Ponnelle. If you have that one, overall there is no reason to buy this one, however if you currently have no version in your collection, this version is to be preferred over that one. This Orfeo is much more compelling on a human level; the Harnoncourt/Ponnelle at times seems almost to be a puppet show, the acting and staging are so stylised and exaggerated. This Orfeo is a theatre production with a real stage and (very quiet) live audience, while the Harnoncourt is a studio production; in this case the live dimension adds a lot to one’s enjoyment.

Paul Shoemaker


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