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Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria  
Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists/John Eliot Gardiner
rec. live, The National Forum of Music, Wroclaw, Poland, 7- 9 September 2017
SOLI DEO GLORIA SDG730 [3 CDs: 185:10]

I was pleased to be able to review this as I was already familiar with, and greatly admire, Gardiner’s recordings of L’Orfeo and L’incoronazione di Poppea. This live recording of Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria from Wrocaw, Poland was timed to coincide with the 450th anniversary of the composer’s birth. It marks a seven-month exploration of the three surviving full-length operas Gardiner undertook with his Monteverdi Choir, the period instruments of the English Baroque Soloists and a cosmopolitan group of soloists. There were thirty-three performances in eight European countries, which ended up in Chicago and New York.

Monteverdi was seventy-four when he composed the opera, in a great burst of creativity. The librettist was Giacomo Badoaro. It consists of a prologue and five acts, which were later revised to three. The premiere took place at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo in Venice during the 1639–1640 carnival season. Badoaro turned to the second half of Homer's Odyssey for his libretto. Ulysses returns to his kingdom of Ithaca after the Trojan War. He finds that a trio of suitors have been competing for his wife. He summons the assistance of the gods, his son Telemaco and his friend Eumete, and vanquishes the suitors and retakes his kingdom.

This release is issued by Gardiner's own label “Soli Deo Gloria”, so named from the initials that Johann Sebastian Bach appended at the end of each of his cantatas, dedicating them to the "glory of God alone". Having purchased several of the Bach Cantata series, I'm very impressed by the label’s high quality production and presentation. This recording adheres to the same format - a black hard-back book/case. Annotations in English, German and French are provided by Gardiner himself and Tim Carter, an authority on music in late Renaissance and early Baroque Italy, and offer the listener illuminating background and context. Full Italian libretto with English translation is provided.

This tale of steadfast devotion is vividly brought to life by some of the most beguiling, yet moving, music you’re ever likely to hear. The drama is rendered more palpable by the intimate relationship of the singers to the instrumentalists. Gardiner opted for a semi-staged performance or, rather, an "enhanced concert performance", as he himself likes to describe it. I always find him a wonderfully inspirational conductor and here he elicits from the orchestral players a sensitivity to the text in terms of nuance and inflection.

I particularly liked his hand-picked soloists. I would single out Furio Zanasi as an excellent Ulysses, noble yet world-weary. Lucile Richardot similarly impresses, successful in bringing both warmth and drama to the part.  Krystian Adam as Ulysses' son Telemachus brings sufficient vitality to his role.

The opera is superbly recorded, and the engineers have achieved an admirable balance between soloists, choir and instrumental players. This is music-making of the highest order.

Stephen Greenbank
Furio Zanasi (Ulisse)
Lucile Richardot (Penelope)
Krystian Adam (Telemaco)
Hana Blažíková (Minerva / Fortuna)
Gianluca Buratto (Tempo / Nettuno / Antinoo)
Michal Czerniawski (Pisandro)
Gareth Treseder (Anfinomo)
Zachary Wilder (Eurimaco)
Anna Dennis (Melanto)
John Taylor Ward (Giove)
Francesca Boncompagni (Giunone)
Robert Burt (Iro)
Francisco Fernández-Rueda (Eumete)
Carlo Vistoli (Umana Fragilitŕ)
Silvia Frigato (Amore)
Francesca Biliotti (Ericlea)


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