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Stravaganza d’Amore: The Birth of Opera at the Medici Court 1589-1608
Pygmalion/Raphaël Pichon
rec. October-November 2016, Chapelle Royale, Versailles. DDD
Texts and translations included
HARMONIA MUNDI HMM902286.87 [52:14 + 50:31]

Reviewed as downloaded in 24-bit sound with pdf booklet from eclassical.com.

La Storia di Orfeo
Extracts from
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1657-1743)
L’Orfeo
(Mantua, 1607)
Luigi ROSSI (c.1597-1653)
Orfeo
(Paris, 1647)
Antonio SARTORIO (1630-1680)
Orfeo
(Venice, 1672)
Orfeo - Philippe Jaroussky (countertenor); Euridice - Emőke Baráth (soprano)
Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera
I Barocchisti/Diego Fasolis
rec. 20-29 September 2016, Auditorio Stelio Molo della RSI, Lugano, Switzerland. DDD
Texts and translations included.
ERATO 90295851903 [64:09]

These are two very enjoyable side-shows to the Monteverdi 450 celebrations.

There’s no music by the master on Harmonia Mundi but a selection from the works of his near contemporaries, especially those involved in the Intermedi composed for the Medici marriage of 1589, which were the predecessors of opera, and Giulio Caccini and Jacopo Peri, who composed the first two surviving operas, both entitled Euridice and both published in 1600.  

One elephant in the room is Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo of 1607 but that’s well enough known and represented in the catalogue not to need inclusion even in excerpts but it’s good to have the two-decade time span of this programme rounded off with an excerpt from Gagliano’s La Dafne of 1608 now that the 1977 DG Archiv recording directed by Jürgen Jürgens is download only or special order from Presto.  It’s no match for Monteverdi who was ill and thought unlikely to complete l’Arianna, for which the Gagliano work was intended to be substituted, but I do recommend obtaining or listening to it one way or another.  (Actually the time-span is rather longer than the 1589-1608 of the title: Striggio’s O giovenil ardire (CD1/track 9) comes from an intermedio of 1568, Marenzio’s Donne, il celeste lume (CD1/track 10) dates from 1585, and Buonamente, whose Ballo del Granduca opens the final section (CD2/track 12) was a mere 13 years old in 1608).

More seriously, there’s another elephant in the room in the form of those six intermedi performed in Florence in 1589 and known collectively as La Pellegrina.  These have been recorded in their entirety twice, first on an EMI recording with Andrew Parrott in charge, now Erato download only, and more recently by Skip Sempé, Capriccio Stravagante and Collegium Vocale Ghent for Paradizo, also download only, though Amazon UK still have copies of the CD.  Both are very fine indeed and I found it almost impossible to choose between them – review.

The casual purchaser could easily be forgiven for thinking that those 1589 works were included in full on the new album.  That is, in fact, what I originally thought: the title echoes that which EMI gave to their LP and CD releases of these works – Una Stravaganza dei Medici – and the front cover is taken from the costume illustrations for La Pellegrina.  (More images online here.)  Noting that the programme runs to two CDs, I assumed that the complete La Pellegrina had been supplemented with other contemporary works.

In fact the 1589 intermedi are presented only in bleeding chunks, taken out of context and made to fit, with other bleeding chunks, into a new scheme:  Love’s Dominion, The Legend of Apollo, The Tears of Orpheus and The Ballet of the Royal Lovers, this last taken almost exclusively from intermedi I and VI of 1589.  Much as I like the performances on this dish of musical scrambled egg, arranged by Raphaël Pichon, who directs the programme, and Michel Henry, it can be a little indigestible at times.  It took me longer to copy all the details of what comes from where at the end of the review than to write the body of it.

Similar muted reservations apply to a recording entitled Li Due Orfei, containing music by Peri and Caccini.  Though not, as the title leads one to expect, consisting of these composers’ two operas on the Orpheus and Euridice theme, it’s still very enjoyable.   My review in DL News 2016/3 was based on streaming and an mp3 press preview but it’s now available in better quality (16- or 24-bit) with pdf booklet from eclassical.com.

If the Harmonia Mundi in effect amounts to a pasticcio or pastiche, the same is also true of the Erato recording.  Such works were not uncommon in the baroque period: Handel composed some pasticcio operas put together from his own and other composers’ works (e.g. Giove in Argo) and after his death John Christopher Smith ‘borrowed’ Handel’s own music for the oratorio Tobit.

Unlike the Harmonia Mundi, however, instead of creating an alternative story-line, the music follows the order of the story of Orpheus and Euridice as narrated in the three operas which have been mined for the music, with each of the three composers allowed about an equal say in the selections.

If the quality of performance on Harmonia Mundi to some extent overcomes my objections to the way the programme has been assembled, how could I fail to be entranced by the quality of the singing, instrumental support, direction and recording on Erato?  Philippe Jaroussky’s very distinctive voice is a taste which I very quickly acquired long ago.  Not only has it grown on me with repeated hearing, I genuinely think that it has matured to the extent that if it’s now a little less sui generis, it’s even more beautiful.

He’s equally beautifully accompanied by Emöke Baráth on this recording, with the sole reservation that both voices are perhaps a little too similar.  In reviewing the recent Erato recording of Handel’s Partenope I noted that Baráth is effective in a role usually assigned to a counter-tenor, which is why I sometimes thought her voice and Jaroussky’s a little too alike, but I really don’t wish to make too much of a very minor reservation.  I awarded Recording of the Month status to a DG recording on which Patricia Petibon sings Euridice’s aria Orfeo tu dormi?  Baráth gives an equally wonderful account of that aria (track 17).

Much more seriously I suppose that this release means that it’s unlikely that we shall have a Jaroussky – Baráth complete recording of the Monteverdi alone.  Nor does it seem likely that a complete new recording of the Rossi is on the cards – the sole version, from Les Arts Florissants and William Christie on Harmonia Mundi, last seen on budget-price HMX2901358.60, is now download only, as also is the only recording of the Sartorio, from Teatro Lirico and Steven Stubbs, on Challenge Classics CC72020.

If you are still looking for a recommendable version of the Monteverdi, among a number of very fine recordings I incline towards La Venexiana and Claudio Cavina, recently reissued on Glossa GCD920941, which also happens to be the top recommendation on a recent Radio 3 Building a Library programme.  The original release remains available as a download on GCD920913 – DL Roundup February 2010.  The classicsonline.com link is defunct but the album can be streamed from Naxos Music Library.  For alternatives, please see my review of the Avie recording directed by Andrew Parrott.

At least one complete recording of Monteverdi’s Orfeo should be the first priority for any lover of baroque music.  After that the new Erato recording is irresistible; any reservations about the splicing together of three operas is as naught compared to the wonderful performances and recording.

About the Harmonia Mundi I must be more equivocal.  It’s all very persuasively performed and recorded but it contains so little of the Medici intermedi of 1589 that you will also need a complete recording of those.  Once you’ve heard the few excerpts on the new recording you’ll want either the Andrew Parrott or Ski Sempé.  Subscribers to Naxos Music Library can stream the Parrott here and the Sempé here.  No texts with these but the Italian original is available here.

Brian Wilson

Track details (Harmonia Mundi):

CD 1
Primo Intermedio:  All’imperio d’Amore
Girolamo Fantini Stravaganza d’Amore! - Toccata – La Renuccini [1:47]
Cristofano Malvezzi O fortunato giorno, a 30 – La Pellegrina - Florence, 1589, intermedio  VI [3:12]
Giulio Caccini Ineffabile ardore, a 6 – Il Rapimento di Cefalo - Florence, 1600 [1:07]
O che felice giorno, a voce sola [4:20]
Ineffabile ardore, a 6 – Il Rapimento di Cefalo - Florence, 1600 [1:00]
Luca Marenzio La dipartita é amara, a 4 [2:13]
Giulio Caccini Ineffabile ardore, a 6 – Il Rapimento di Cefalo [0:54]
Antonio Brunelli Non avea Febo ancora, a voce sola [1:33]
Alessandro Striggio O giovenil ardire, a 8 – I Fabii:  intermedio II for the baptism of Eleonor Medici Florence, 1568 [2:16]
Luca Marenzio Donne, il celeste lume, a 9 – Stravaganza d’Amore: Rome, Palazzo Boncompagni, 1585, Act IV, “Madrigale che si cantò nell fine dell’Atto” [2:56]
 
Secondo Intermedio: La Favolla d’Apollo
Scena prima: La discesa d’Apollo
Cristofano Malvezzi Dal vago e bel sereno, a 6 – La Pellegrina Florence, 1589, intermedio  VI [5:18]
O qual risplende, a 6 – La Pellegrina Florence, 1589, intermedio VI [1:36]
Marco da Gagliano Ohimè che veggio, a 5 – La Dafne - 1608, scène 1 [1:26]
Scena seconda: Apollo con il serpente
Luca Marenzio Qui di carne si sfama, a 12 – La Pellegrina Florence, 1589, intermedio  III [2:21]
Alessandro Orologio Apollo affronta il serpente, a 6 [1:02]
Marco da Gagliano Poi giacque estinto al fine – La Dafne - 1608, scene 1 [1:09]
Luca Marenzio O mille volte, a 8 – La Pellegrina Florence, 1589, intermedio  III [2:07]
Scena terza: Gli Amori di Apollo e Dafne
Marco da Gagliano Piangete, o ninfe – La Dafne - 1608, scene 5 [4:25]
Cristofano Malvezzi Sinfonia, a 6 – La Pellegrina Florence, 1589, intermedio  IV [2:34]
Marco da Gagliano Un guardo, un guard’appena – La Dafne - 1608, scene 6 [6:23]
Bella ninfa fuggitiva, a 5 – La Dafne - 1608, scene 6 [2:26]

CD 2

Terzo Intermedio: Le Lagrime d’Orfeo
Scena prima: Le Nozze
Lorenzo Allegri Gagliarda, a 6 – Primo ballo della Notte d’Amore [1:16]
Jacopo Peri/Giulio Caccini Al canto, al ballo, a 5 – L’Euridice - 1600, scene 1 [2:38]
Scena seconda: La Morte d’Euridice
Jacopo Peri Lassa, che di spavento – L’Euridice - 1600, scene 2 [6:22]
Non piango e non sospiro – L’Euridice - 1600, scene 2 [1:55]
Cruda morte / Sospirate, aure celesti – L’Euridice - 1600, scene 2 [4:23]
Scena terza: L’Inferno
Lorenzo Allegri Sinfonia, a 6 / Spirto del Ciel – Primo ballo della Notte d’Amore [1:21]
Giulio Caccini Funeste piagge – L’Euridice - 1600, scene 4 [4:39]
Luca Marenzio Udite, lagrimosi spirti d’Averno [4:19]
Giulio Caccini Trionfi oggi pietà / O fortunati miei – L’Euridice - 1600, scene 4 [4:06]
Scena quarta: L’Apoteosi d’Orfeo
Jacopo Peri Gioite al canto mio – L’Euridice - 1600, scene 5 [1:21]
Ma che più, a 5 – L’Euridice - 1600, scene 5 [1:13]

Quarto Intermedio: Il Ballo degli reali amanti
Giovanni Battista Buonamente Ballo del Granduca, a 7 [4:27]
Cristofano Malvezzi Dolcissime sirene, a 6 – La Pellegrina - Florence, 1589, intermedio I [1:40]
A voi, reali amanti, a 15 – La Pellegrina - Florence, 1589, intermedio I [4:04]
Coppia gentil, a 6 – La Pellegrina - Florence, 1589, intermedio I [1:10]
O che nuovo miracolo, a 5/a 3 – La Pellegrina - Florence, 1589, intermedio VI [5:27]

Track details (Erato):

SartorioSinfonia [1:31]
Cara e amabile catena (Euridice, Orfeo) [2:17]
Monteverdi: Vieni, Imeneo... Lasciate i monti (Coro) [2:30]
Rosa del Ciel (Orfeo, Euridice) [2:51]
Rossi: Mio ben, teco il tormento (Euridice) [4:00]
Che dolcezza è la certezza (Euridice, Orfeo) [0:44]
Deh, più lucente (Coro) [1:12]
Monteverdi: Vi ricorda, o boschi ombrosi (Orfeo) [1:59]
Vieni, Imeneo (Coro) [0:50]
Rossi: M’ami tu?... Se così dunque Amor fà (Euridice, Orfeo)/ Deh, pietà! (Coro) [4:13]
A l’imperio d’Amore (Euridice, Coro) [1:18]
Sartorio: Ahimè, Numi, son morta (Euridice, Orfeo) [2:01]
Rossi: Ah, piangete! (Coro) [1:02]
Lagrime, dove sete? (Orfeo) [3:43]
Sartorio: È morta Euridice (Orfeo) [2:50]                              
Rossi: Dormite, begl’occhi, dormite (Coro) [2:22]
Sartorio: Orfeo tu dormi? (Euridice) [2:15]
Se desti pietà (Euridice) [1:56]
Risvegliati, sù (Euridice, Orfeo) [2:18]
Monteverdi: Possente spirto (Orfeo) [8:43]
Pietade oggi e Amore (Coro) [1:09]
Sartorio: Numi, che veggio... Non ti volger (Euridice, Orfeo) [3:19]
Chiuso, ahimè, di Cocito... Rendetemi Euridice (Orfeo) [1:51]
Rossi: Lasciate Averno (Orfeo) [6:09]
Amor vero e salda fé (Coro) [1:00]



 




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