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Caravaggio : A ballet in two acts by Mauro BIGONZETTI
Music by Bruno MORETTI (b.1957) based on Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Vladimir Malakhov, Polina Semionova, Beatrice Knop, Mikhail Kaniskin, Dmitry Semionov, Elisa Carrillo Cabrera, Shoko Nakamura, Michael Banzhaf and Leonard Jakovina
Staatsballett Berlin
Staatskapelle Berlin/Paul Connelly
rec. Deutsche Staatsoper unter den Linden, 2008
Subtitle Languages: Italian, English, German, French, Spanish, Russian
Menu Language: English
Bonus: ‘Making of Caravaggio’ - Interviews with the choreographer, composer and soloists as well as backstage and rehearsal footage.
Sound Format: PCM Stereo + DTS-HD Audio Master 7.1
Picture Format: 16:9
Blu-ray Disc: 25 GB (Single Layer)
Resolution: 1080i High Definition
FSK: 0
ARTHAUS MUSIK 101795 blu-ray and CD [69:15 + 20 minutes bonus, on blu-ray only]

Limited edition with bonus CD.  Also available as DVD + CD 109082 and on blu-ray without CD as 101464

The time of Michelangelo Merisi, known as Caravaggio, and his near-contemporary fellow artist Artemisia Gentileschi, the daughter of Orazio Gentileschi, a painter influenced by Caravaggio’s style, has been attracting quite some attention recently.  Michael Palin explored the eventful life of Artemisia in a recent BBC television production and the music which she and Caravaggio might have heard appeared on an enjoyable CD from Dorian Sono Luminus (DSL92195 – review).

A few years ago Jordi Savall put together a programme entitled Lachrimæ Caravaggio, the Tears of Caravaggio, a hauntingly beautiful if rather over-long compilation designed to accompany an exhibition in Barcelona including music by Gesualdo and Trabaci alongside Savall’s own compositions and extemporisations from his own Hespèrion XXI and Ferran Savall.  (Alia Vox AVSA9852).

Just to avoid any confusion, there was a contemporary composer by the name of Caravaggio: Livio Lupi da Caravaggio (fl.1607), whose ancestors presumably came from the same town as the painter’s, but who seems not to have had any connection with our man.  His Balletto Alta Caretta features on a very enjoyable recording of Italian Dances c.1600 by Cesare Negri and others from The Broadside Band on Hyperion CDH55059.  (Available on CD or as mp3 or lossless download, with pdf booklet, from

The Dorian CD draws on the music of several composers including Monteverdi but contemporary composer Bruno Moretti has restricted himself to Monteverdi’s music for this ballet on the life of Caravaggio.  Though Monteverdi was a close contemporary of the artist (1571-1610), it seems at first sight a big demand to turn the music of a composer so closely associated with voices into a purely orchestral form and Moretti seems initially to have thought so too, but the risk has paid off.

I have to admit at this point that I am sold on the process of turning the music of the past into a contemporary form: I’m thinking of Respighi’s Ancient Airs and Dances, Rodrigo’s Fantasía para un gentilhombre and above all of Walton’s adaptation of Bach’s music, much of it vocal, for his ballet The Wise Virgins.  If such music is not your cup of tea, you may well react less favourably to Caravaggio

Also if you revere Monteverdi so much that any adaptation seems sacrilege you may fear to hear Moretti’s adaptation.  I can only say that my own reverence for Monteverdi is second to none: the 1610 Vespers, L’Orfeo and Il Ritorno d’Ulisse are among the glories of the baroque repertoire for me but this adaptation never seems to undermine the originals.  The music does, however, often sound very different in its new garb, especially when the dynamic is altered: apart from the well-known, such as the prologue to L’Orfeo (track16, The Martyrdom of St Matthew), it’s often the case that you would be hard put to place the music as by Monteverdi.

With the bonus CD it’s possible to enjoy just the music, which is attractive in its own right.  There’s enough variety in Monteverdi to evoke the various aspects of Caravaggio’s life and paintings depicted in the ballet: the booklet lists all the sources, sacred and secular, from which Moretti has borrowed.

So far, then, so good.  I must admit that I approached the visual side of the project with more trepidation, having been less than ecstatic about a goodly proportion of over-‘clever’ opera and ballet productions on DVD and blu-ray.  I need not have worried.

Pastiche compositions for ballet often work well: in addition to the Walton mentioned above, there’s Rossini in La Boutique Fantasque and the traditional French music in La Fille mal gardée.  Subject to my caveat that Monteverdi in new garb is not always recognisable as himself, everything used here lends itself well to the choreography.

Swan Lake it isn’t, nor is it some unfathomable avant-garde work.  Most of the choreography would work well with the likes of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet.  Only one or two movements seem to be performed for their own sake, to show that the dancer can do the near-impossible, rather than for the sake of the plot.

In fact it is not always easy to follow the story-line without keeping an eye on the synopsis in the booklet.  That apart, the overall theme of Caravaggio’s complex life, art, self-doubt and ambiguous sexuality is well conveyed.  We might have seen more of the darker side of the subject – the murders and GBH which he committed and his ignominious death running along the beach after the ship which was taking off with his belongings.

Caravaggio’s paintings are renowned for their use of chiaroscuro and stage designer Carlo Cerri’s lighting effects for the ballet are especially commendable, with characters seeming to emerge into the light from darkness and recede back into darkness.

The recording, as heard from the CD, is good.  From the blu-ray, with a sound base replacing the television speakers it’s even better, and better still as played from the blu-ray on an audio system.  What sometimes sounds a little restrained as heard from the CD opens out splendidly from the blu-ray disc.

The limited bonus edition comes in a tri-fold cardboard housing.  It looks as if when that is exhausted the blu-ray alone will be housed in the now familiar blue plastic case.  As usual with blu-ray and DVD the booklet is fairly minimalist.  There are plenty of photographs from the ballet but it would have been useful to have included the paintings which inspired the work, especially as mention is made of the copyright holders of three of them.  Was it originally intended to include them?  Those three are shown briefly framed at the back of the stage at the beginning of Act II but that’s only a handful of the many Caravaggio paintings evoked in the ballet.  Presumably permission to show the others was not forthcoming.

Not a mainstream recommendation, then, but I enjoyed the experience.

Brian Wilson  


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