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Giulio CACCINI (1551 - 1618)
L’Euridice (libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini) (1600) [70:00]
Euridice, La Tragedia - Silvia Frigato (soprano)
Orfeo - Furio Zanasi (baritone)
Arcetro - Gianpaolo Fagotto (tenor)
Tirsi & Aminta - Luca Dordolo (tenor)
Dafne, Proserpina - Sara Mingardo (contralto)
Venere - Minca Piccinini (soprano)
Plutone - Antonio Abete (bass)
Radamanto - Matteo Bellotto (bass)
Caronte - Mauro Borgioni (baritone)
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini (harpsichord, organ)
rec. Live, August 2013, Innsbrucker Festwochen der alten Musik
NAIVE OP30552 [70.00]

It is uncertain as to exactly which version of L’Euridice was performed to celebrate the wedding of Maria de Medici and Henri IV of France in Florence, 1600. Though it was claimed to be Jacopo Peri’s L’Euridice that was premiered at the wedding, students of the composer Giulio Caccini took part and Caccini insisted that they sang to his music. Both versions went to print soon after this event and though Italian baroque specialists maintain that Peri was a much more significant composer with greater capabilities in the sophistication of his melodic writing, here it is Caccini’s opera based on a text by Ottavio Rinuccini, which is revived.

Derived from books ten and eleven of Ovid’s Metamorphoses which recount the story of Orfeo and his wife Euridice, Caccini’s opera follows the myth quite closely, though the ending is reversed as:-

A loving singer (Orfeo) obtains the right
For the goddess (Euridice) he adores
To see the sky once more and to live on.

Rinuccini’s libretto was conceived as poetry to be set to music and it contains an inherent theatricality as well as a natural rhythmical quality and an unabashed beauty. The idea of sung declamation is sometimes lavished obtusely and suits Caccini’s less indulgent style. This latter is characterised by long stretches of recitative interspersed with moments of aria-like phrases and occasional choruses. Caccini’s orchestration is minimalist and simplistic allowing the story to unfold with no chi-chi fuss, rather than forcing his ideas forward with contrived ornamentation. Writing extended arioso-like recitative, Caccini seems unconcerned with composing melodically memorable music as he did in his solo madrigals. Instead he focuses on extending the conversational freedom within the music. As Caccini himself wrote in the preface to L’Euridice: ‘In this manner of singing, I have used a certain studied carelessness (sprezzatura), which I deem to have an element of nobility, believing that with it I have approached that much nearer to natural speech’. With this meditated spontaneity, Caccini composes ‘the imitation of the sentiments of the words’ affording the performers space for empathetic interpretation. These qualities are brought to the surface in this wonderful recording.

Performing live with a magical cast of Italian singers, Rinaldo Alessandrini heightens the sense of drama as he encourages each singer to paint vivid characters. This is all captured under his musically tight and mesmerisingly theatrical direction. This compact opera, has been recorded to a high standard and is accompanied by a well-informed CD booklet containing full text and translations. The results will appeal strongly to opera aficionados and those intrigued by the beginnings of opera in the early seventeenth century.

When the Nymph proclaims ‘non vede un simil par d’amanti ‘l Sole’, which is echoed by the Shepherd and the Chorus, a radiant sense of benevolence amongst vocalists and orchestral accompaniment is shared. The immediacy of the storytelling and of the propinquity of each character is felt by the listener from beginning to end.

As Euridice Silvia Frigato has a pure, meltingly poignant voice which exudes compassion and tragedy. The final part of scene one where the Chorus ‘dolce cantando in si beato giorno’ beckon: ‘Al canto, al ballo, all’ ombre, al prato adorno, / alle bell’onde, e liete’, is exquisitely performed. The voices interweave and frolic, just as the blushing flower petals flutter in the meadows, nymphs dance to the happy song and trickling streams gushingly rejoice. Beginning scene two, Furio Zanasi as Orfeo sings with ardour and intent. Singing ‘al suon dell’angosciose mie parole’, Zanasi is heartrendingly moving. The rich timbre of Zanasi’s voice as well as his untrammelled conviction heightens the listener’s sense of Orfeo’s fated plight. Gianpaolo Fagotto has a strong, muscular voice which contrasts sublimely with Zanasi’s mellifluousness and Luca Dordolo’s nimble and lithe trills as Tirsi.

Sara Mingardo’s ‘Lassa’ over ‘Miserabil beltate’ is one of the most captivatingly doleful passages. The libretto and the melodies entwine in a twinned sense of languid pathos. As Dafne, Mingardo is exquisite; her voice is clear, embodying both grace and deliberation. Singing of Euridice’s enchanting dancing, golden hair and astonishing beauty, Mingardo’s phrasing is exceptional.

The harmonies of the Chorus as they sing ‘Sospirate, aire celesti. Lagrimate, o selve, o campi’ are transcendental in their reach and exude an ebullient spirituality. As conductor Alessandrini is masterly in making each part cohere. Nowhere is this sharply defined yet tenderly evoked togetherness more beautifully executed than in the dovetailing duet between Monica Piccinini and Anna Simboli, the two Nymphs towards the end of scene two.

A full, expressive performance by the Concerto Italiano — who record exclusively for Naïve — not only enriches the music but forms a stable backdrop to the overall opera. Having performed much early music, from Monteverdi’s madrigals to the orchestral and operatic repertory of the eighteenth century, Concerto Italiano is a group of specialised and highly competent musicians who enhance every project with which they engage.

Each character in this opera contextualises and conveys an individualised expression of the human spirit through the human voice. Stripped of artificiality, each vocalist strives to represent human actions and morals, conveying both humanity’s flaws and its virtues. Motivated by the humanistic plight of Orfeo, Alessandrini’s L’Euridice explores the notion of self-determination presenting us with the timeless reality that, as Ferdinand (John Webster’s cruellest and lycanthropic villain from The Duchess of Malfi) stammers as he dies: ‘Whether we fall by ambition, blood, or lust, / Like diamonds, we are cut with our own dust.’

Lucy Jeffery

And a second review ...

This disc brings us to the birth of opera. L'Euridice by Giulio Caccini was printed in 1600, the first publication of an opera score.
The roots of opera are to be found in the Middle Ages. In church liturgical plays were performed, especially about the birth of Jesus and his resurrection. Their counterparts were plays in the vernacular, often so-called 'morality plays'. An early baroque specimen of this genre is the Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo by Emilio de' Cavalieri. As far as the origins of opera are concerned, one could go back even further: since the emergence of Humanism artists, poets and musicians came under the spell of ancient Greek culture. Part of that was Greek tragedy which was performed by actors who delivered a text in a mixture of speech and song. This was then propagated as the ideal by Giulio Caccini; he called it recitar cantando.
His L'Euridice was the first opera to be printed, but not the first to be performed. In October 1600 Henri IV, King of Navarre and France, married Maria de' Medici in Florence. On 6 October the fable L'Euridice, on a text by Ottavio Rinuccini and with music by Jacopo Peri, was performed. Caccini contributed to this work, and his daughters and some pupils took part. It seems that Caccini wanted to publish his own complete setting first. It gave him the chance to claim to be the very first to compose music for solo voice. Caccini even insisted that some of his compositions in this manner were written about fifteen years earlier. The relationship between Caccini and Peri is unclear but it seems that there was a certain amount of antagonism between them.
The story of Orpheus and Euridice was quite popular, and had been the subject of theatrical music before this. However, it is no coincidence that it was chosen by three composers: Caccini, Peri and Monteverdi. It was not just a good story; it was also programmatic. The myth of Orpheus and Euridice was a metaphor for the marriage of poetry and music. Orpheus's singing serves his plea for Euridice being returned to him. It is music which gives additional weight to his words. That was exactly what the role of music should be, according to Caccini.
The opera here is divided into a prologue and six scenes. The singers represent a number of characters, sometimes more than one, and together sing the choruses. Considering the relatively small space where the first performance took place it seems plausible to assume that these choruses were sung by the soloists. There are no parts for instruments; the singers are supported by the basso continuo alone. This allows the singers to deliver the text to maximum effect. It also gives them the opportunity to treat the rhythm of the music with considerable freedom. Moreover, the singers were expected to add ornamentation in order to emphasize elements of the text. As the settings by Caccini and Peri were performed on the occasion of a wedding, they both have a happy end, unlike Monteverdi's L'Orfeo which was first performed in 1607. Notable are the narrative episodes: we hear about the fate of Euridice through an eye-witness account by Dafne, whereas Arcetro reports Orpheus's reaction to the news of Euridice's death. Orpheus' role is more limited than in Monteverdi's setting.
This live recording is successful in demonstrating the quality of Caccini's music and the strength of this style in communicating the story to the audience. The singing of the cast is a matter of hit and miss. Silvia Frigato sings the role of Euridice beautifully and also gives a good account of the part of La Tragedia in the prologue. Furio Zanasi truly masters the art of recitar cantando but I would have preferred a more 'open' voice and perhaps a younger singer. After all Orpheus is a young man. Gianpaolo Fagotto (Arcetro) has the perfect voice for this repertoire, and the ornamentation which is a feature of this style comes off perfectly, especially the trillo. However, he is not very sensitive to the text as his performance is too one-dimensional. In this respect Luca Dardolo makes a better impression in his performance of the role of Aminta. Sara Mingardo (Dafne, Proserpina) is another singer who is not unproblematic. She is not very convincing in her ornamentation and she rather overdoes the vibrato. Stylistically she is more at home in later repertoire. Monica Piccinini does well in the small role of Venere and Matteo Bellotto and Mauro Borgioni are convincing in the roles of Radamanto and Caronte respectively. Antonio Abete has the right voice for the part of Pluto, but he is not very pitch-steady.
This recording has to compete with a performance by Scherzi Musicali, directed by Nicolas Achten (Ricercar, 2008). That version is not perfect, but I slightly prefer it to this new recording under Alessandrini. That is mainly due to the performances of some of the roles. Reinoud Van Mechelen is more sensitive than Gianpaolo Fagotto in the role of Arcetro. Dafne is better off in the hands of the male alto Magid El-Bushra, especially considering the style of singing. However, this new CD has much to offer and is certainly a good proposition if you are looking for a recording of this relatively little-known masterpiece.

Johan van Veen