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Monteverdi, Claudio: Orfeo (DVD) Harmonia Mundi 2006

Monteverdi: L’Orfeo. Favola in Musica (DVD)


Composer Claudio Monteverdi
Conductor Rene Jacobs
Director/Designer Trisha Brown
Orfeo (tenor) Simon Keenlyside
Euridice/La Musica/Eco (soprano) Juanita Lascarro
La Messaggiera (soprano) Graciela Oddone
Proserpina/Ninfa (soprano) Martina Dike
La Speranza (contralto) Stephen Wallace
Plutone (bass) Tómas Tómasson
Caronte (bass) Paul Gérimon
Apollo (tenor) Mauro Utzeri
Ninfa (soprano)  Anne Cambier, Martina Dike
Pastori, Spriti: Stephen Wallace, René Linnenbank, Paul Gérimon, Yann Beuron, John Bowen
La Musica/Eco (soprano) Juanita Lascarro
Trisha Brown Dance Company
Trisha Brown (choreography)
Roland Aeschlimann (sets and costumes)
Recorded live on May 21 1998. To see details and reviews of this performance click here: Orfeo: Theatre de la Monnaie, Bruxelles, 1998
Label Harmonia Mundi (released to mark the 60th Birthday of Rene Jacobs) Release date November 2006
Code HMD9909003.04
Award_ChocChoc du Monde de la Musique 2006
Award_ffff_telerama‘ffff’ in Telerama

Here is what Harmonia Mundi say about it: The fusion of dance and opera. First seen at La Monnaie in Brussels on 13 May 1998, this production of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo seen through the eyes of Trisha Brown and René Jacobs has become an operatic classic in a few short years. This is doubtless because it offers a total symbiosis of music, text and movement – described by the critic of the Daily Telegraph of London as being ‘as close to the perfect dance opera as I have ever seen’. Also includes ‘Behind the scenes of L’Orfeo’, a 52-minute documentary on the René Jacobs-Trisha Brown production.


What the critics say

Anthony Pryer, BBC Music Magazine January 2007

An extract from a review of two René Jacobs DVD releases, the other DVD being reviewed is La Calisto, but sadly not with Simon as Mercury.

PERFORMANCE (Orfeo) * * * * *

PRESENTATION (Orfeo) * * * *

Here we have two compelling performances of early operas produced at the Theatre Royal de la Monnaie in Brussels in the 1990s. Rene Jacobs has already issued CD versions of both of them, with slightly different casts.

In both works, however, the staging is absolutely integral to the conception of the works and it is an added bonus that the extra elements on the DVDs not only give us the usual interviews, but reveal the mechanisms of the scenery, the musical considerations, and the meticulous planning that went towards realising those visions.

… Monteverdi’s Orfeo has many rivals and needs special reasons for us to see it again. One is the tremendous vocal cast – especially the lithe and mercurial Orfeo (Simon Keenlyside), the searingly affecting Messenger (Graciela Oddone) and sonorous Simon Gérmon [sic] as Caronte. Also, a unique feature of this production is the addition of ‘abstract’ choreography by Trisha Brown and her company of dancers from New York. There are some extraordinarily powerful episodes of intricate movement, such as those surrounding the two arias in Act II (‘Ecco pur’ and ‘Vi ricordi’). Elsewhere, as in the Messenger scene the gestures seem distracting and hard not to read as variations on ‘I’m a little teapot’. Sometimes too the camera work appears somewhat inept. René Jacobs, though, always controls the music exquisitely. This a production that might well grow in reputation.

Andrew Stewart for Classic FM Magazine, February 2007

Trisha Brown’s first operatic venture deserves its status as a milestone production. In partnership with her dance company and a strong vocal cast, Brown creates a striking synthesis of movement and singing, embracing the excesses of Baroque spectacle and the energy of contemporary physical theatre. The video production captures the noble dignity of Monteverdi’s masterpiece, if not the emotional frisson of the original staging. The grace and athleticism of Simon Keenlyside complement his majestic vocal display, while Jacobs extracts maximum colour from his pit band.

John Terauds for the Toronto Star, December 28, 2006 (Extract)

Oldest opera turns 400 with dancers

Big year for L’Orfeo is capped by reprise of unusual 1998 production in Brussels

…Now, as the year closes, a fresh DVD has appeared on store shelves, this time of a 1998 Belgian production that took L’Orfeo in a new direction.

Monteverdi’s aim had been to fuse music and words into a seamless whole that would heighten the dramatic effect on audiences. In this Théâtre de la Monnaie production from Brussels, movement is added to the mix by New York’s Trisha Brown Company.

The result is fascinating, yet it ultimately becomes an intellectual exercise. The Dutch production went straight to the gut, while the Belgian effort appeals to the brain.

René Jacobs is one of the masters of Baroque repertoire. Here he pushes his Concerto Vocale and Collegium Vocale Gent to a vivid, many-hued sound. The singers are excellent, led by Simon Keenlyside as Orfeo, or Orpheus.

Those on stage have a lot more to do than usual. Brown has mixed her dancers with the chorus and given everyone detailed choreography. Some of it is an abstract version of Baroque gesture. Much of it is movement designed to give the often-static music some outside momentum.

Much of this movement feels fussy and distracting on DVD. There are some wonderful Cirque de Soleil-like effects, such as when a trapeze artist gyrates through la Musica’s opening monologue.

The set, essentially a monochrome box dominated by a huge circle, is simple but effective. An interesting twist is using a horizontal rather than vertical line to mark Orpheus’s journey into the underworld to rescue his love, Eurydice.

The DVD has a 55-minute feature on the staging approach. The audio quality is first-rate, and the booklet has cogent background information.

Extract from Gramophone, March 2007.

Richard Lawrence reviews Jacob’s Orfeo and La Calisto

I’m afraid I can’t summon up much enthusiasm for either of these recordings. Orfeo is directed by Trisha Brown, who naturally brings a choreographer’s eye to the staging. Roland Aeschlimann’s otherwise unadorned set is dominated by a disc that turns into the sun: tellingly, when it moves into eclipse as Orpheus bids farewell to the world before his descent to Hades; bafflingly, when it is still visible in Orpheus’s dialogue with Hope before the encounter with Charon. Brown goes in for the hand gestures familiar from the work of Peter Sellars. They are often suitably expressive, but when combined with head movements the effect is distinctly strange. The nymphs and shepherds are clad in white jackets and unbecomingly baggy white trouser they move about a lot, with the result that much of the first act has the feel of a rather manic school sports day. The oddest thing of all is the ending Apollo descends to take his son up to the heavens, and they disappear from view; but then Orpheus reappears, to be killed by the Bacchantes. His death is indeed implied in the original printed libretto, but it is incompatible with the musical version that has come down to us.

Simon Keenlyside makes a fine hero, delivering a fluent “Possente spirto”, the virtuoso aria that charms Charon, and drawing on reserves of power in his outburst against “vile women” before the appearance of Apollo as deus ex machina. Paul Gérimon, seemingly seated on a billiard table is a menacing Charon, and Tómas Tómasson is even more cavernous of voice as Pluto.

The orchestra plays well and is well recorded; how nice it is for once to hear the harp distinctly in “Possente spirto”. But Jacobs has tinkered with the score: brass added to Hope’s intoning of “Lasciate ogni speranza”, gamba improvisations accompany Pluto. Even less forgivably, he changes minor to major when the Messenger finally brings herself to announce the death of Eurydice, the ensuing dominant seventh turning Orpheus’s stunned “Ohimè” into mere sentimentality.

Adam Wasserman for Opera News April 2007

Four hundred years after the 1607 premiere of Monteverdi’s favola in musica, one could be forgiven for pointing out that — in this era of video projections, mutable scenery and eminently graceful singing actors — there has yet to be a completely satisfying and distinctive production of L’Orfeo released on DVD. Ultimately, this production, which took the stage of the Théâtre Royale de la Monnaie in May 1998, featuring Trisha Brown’s choreography and direction, offers no consolation or definitive answers visually, in spite of its robust musical merits, courtesy of René Jacobs.

Once the vigorous toccata concludes, the curtain opens onto a scene wherein a dancer representing La Musica (sung offstage by Juanita Lascarro, also Euridice) is suspended above the stage by dual invisible wires. As the viola da gambas and theorbos weave their way through skillfully conceived variations of the prologue’s plaintive ritornello, the dangling dancer flips, flies and floats behind a fishbowl-like cutout in the black flat covering the proscenium. It’s a dazzling effect, but the scene is soon replaced by a bare stage, populated only with vampiric-looking choristers and dancers in identical white suits and black t-shirts. Several other instances of Brown’s choreography and direction prove to be thrilling: Simon Keenlyside’s Orfeo literally flies into the frame at the beginning of the athletic “Ecco pur ch’a voi ritorno,” while the dancers evoke frenzied pastoral scenes.

In Act IV, Brown’s underworld adeptly brings to mind Dante’s conception of hell, with its ceaselessly roiling and tortured bodies, manhandled and thrown about by black-clad dancers on a darkened stage. Ultimately, though, too much of the effort feels like little more than ersatz Robert Wilson schtick — big on tortured gesticulation and thrusting, seemingly small on dramatic insight or reason. This may very well be due to the unimaginative camera work — we are rarely given an audience-member’s-eye view of the complete stage picture; instead, we are left to dawdle on details.

Vocally, Keenlyside’s Orfeo — costumed in an unfortunate orange Nehru suit and looking like a Star Trek villain — is excellent. Rarely has a voice been more attuned to the dynamic ebb and flow of Monteverdi’s melodies; his burnished, fine-grained timbre makes a legitimate claim for more baritonal performances of the title role and more baritones able to sing it this well. His goosebump-inducing “Rosa del ciel” makes the listener feel privy to the most esoteric and precious of religious ceremonies. Juanita Lascarro’s comely Euridice comports herself much better here than in the previously released DVD of Pierre Audi’s 1997 production. Her voice seems at once richer and more resonant, without any of the overbearing vibrato heard in the prior version. Graciela Oddone makes a lovely, impassioned Messaggiera, while tenor John Bowen’s Shepherd is notable for its legato and beautiful phrasing. Paul Gérimon’s Caronte exhibits copious amounts of unrefined volume and little else.

René Jacobs paces Concerto Vocale and Collegium Vocale Gent in what must be one of the most energetic and entrancing readings of the opera available. The faster sections positively bristle, while the more solemn, muted moments never digress into conductorial indulgence. They say opposites attract, and that’s certainly the case in this meeting of exuberant conductor and seemingly uninspired director. Next time, just the CD please.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Terence Dawson May 8, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I bought this DVD on Janet’s recommendation after telling her how much I enjoyed the Quay brother’s film.
SK has never sounded better, his “Possente spirto” is a glory, worth the price alone, but there are many other splendid offerings and not only from Simon, the rest of the cast also are faultless.
The Trisha Brown dance is a matter of taste, which for me, after a couple of viewings made more sense. SK has said that he can’t dance, well, he gives a pretty good impression of it here! Fluid movement perfectly timed, can one ask more of a singer?

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