Caravaggio : A ballet in two acts by Mauro BIGONZETTI
Music by Bruno MORETTI (b.1957) based on Claudio MONTEVERDI
Vladimir Malakhov, Polina Semionova, Beatrice Knop, Mikhail Kaniskin,
Dmitry Semionov, Elisa Carrillo Cabrera, Shoko Nakamura, Michael Banzhaf
and Leonard Jakovina
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 hyperion-records.co.uk.)
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
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
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
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.