> SARTORIO L'Orfeo [RJF]: Classical Reviews- January 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Antonio SARTORIO (1620-1681)
L’Orfeo, opera
Voices and instruments of the Clemencic Consort/René Clemencic
Rec. Teatro Goldoni, Venice, Italy, October 1997
WARNER: MUSIC ANTIQUA 8573 84103-2 [CD1 62.21; CD2 44.16; CD3 51.02] midprice

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Born in Venice, Sartorio composed 14 operas. He often made the long journey from Hanover, where he held the post of Maestro di Capella to the Duke of Brunswick, to compose and present new operas in his native city and recruit musicians for the German court. He is credited with introducing Italian opera to the Hanover court in 1672. Sartorio finally returned to Venice to be Maestro at St Mark’s where he composed sacred music, albeit not as much as the renowned Coffi might have been expected of him in that position.

Sartorio’s L’Orfeo is based on a libretto by Aurelio Aureli (1652-1708). It was premiered in Venice during the 1672-73 carnival season. Both the text and the music are typical of the authors, with complex sub-plots, ten scene changes, six ballets (not included here but in the Venetian score). It is a characteristic, but not particularly distinguished, example of Venetian opera of the second half of the 17th Century.

Aureli transformed the myth so that Orpheus is no longer the heroic lover prepared to travel to Hades to reclaim his beloved Euridice, but a husband whose chief passion is jealousy, so strong that he plots the death of his wife! Even her second death fails to move Orpheus for long although it inspires a fully fledged lament (CD3 tk2), after which he quickly resigns himself to living without her and, foreswearing all womanhood, he simply disappears. This allows the invented sub-plots to unravel to the conventional happy ending.

Sartorio’s setting of the text reflects his Venetian background and the heritage of Monteverdi and Cavalli. However, the recitatives, the core of Monteverdian operatic expression are replaced by arias of which L’Orfeo contains over 50, with each of the 10 characters given opportunity to express feelings directly to the audience in one or more monologue scenes. These scenes usually consist of two contrasting arias separated by a passage of recitative.

The recording is based on live performances given at the International Festival of Contemporary Music in Venice in 1979. It represents the first revival in modern times of an opera that was very popular in its time, even being presented as far away from Venice as Vienna. The stage production was recorded by Italian television and, given the circumstances, there are few extraneous noises and little premature applause. Generally the sound is very acceptable with the voices clear and the authentic instrument band in a realistic balance.

Given the musicological significance of the performance it is appropriate that the music is realised by René Clemencic and the voices and instruments of the Clemencic Consort. Specialists in this field, with many recordings to their credit, often of public performances, the band sound fully authentic with gut strings, lute, viola de gamba, etc. to an accompanying harpsichord. No attribution, or details of the instrumentation is given. Each of the 3 Acts is contained in a separate CD.

L’Orfeo requires 10 soloists; 3 counter-tenors, 3 sopranos, 2 tenors, 1 baritone, and 1 bass. It would not be appropriate to analyse each contribution in a work and performance such as this. However, whilst not expecting a Schöll or Daniels as Orfeo, it was the ungracious, thin tone of Serio Vortolo in the title role that was my major disappointment. Elsewhere, except for a little unexpected vibrato here and there, the performances are adequate.

The accompanying booklets contain a synopsis, brief essays, sometimes conflicting in fact, and a libretto without translation. Those with specialist interest in Baroque opera will want this mid-price issue. Others may well be more circumspect.

Robert J Farr

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