Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Monteverdi L'Orfeo

Listening to music and texts

Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini

Naive CDs OP30439
[distributed in UK by New Note]

It would take a top early music specialist to question the widely received opinion that this is the finest account of L'Orfeo on disc.

This wonderful package has prompted thoughts about presentation and listening. We generally tend to enjoy opera better on DVD, and Monteverdi has been well served; see our review of two fine filmings, in Barcelona and Amsterdam respectvely.

Alessandrini takes the palm (temporarily, it might be) for what some might think extraneous reasons, in this sumptuous production which follows Concerto Italiano's superb cycle of the Monteverdi madrigals and is listed as a Limited Edition.

Whether that limitation proves to be a reality or not, Alessandrini's L'Orfeo is unmissable however many versions you have. (It is already available from Amazon.UK, priced upwards of a bargain £16)

Idiomatic performances by fine native Italian singers give it a cachet, and they include my current favourite contralto, Sara Mingardo, responsible for delivering the fatal message of Euridice's death, and one of Hope at the end.

But it is the physical pleasure of handling the book that I want to celebrate here; also the delights of listening to Orfeo, in a train to Wales and in a hotel on the Gower Peninsula on iPod with the book in front of me, that will make for an indelible memory. I shall hear it again on hi-fi equipment (not SACD, which I gather has had poor sales take-up) but the quality of iPod leaves little to be desired; maybe I am not the only reviewer to listen on the move?

What is so special? Having taken an interest in CD presentation which falls far short of what can reasonably be expected (q.v. ARTICLES CD Insert Booklets & CD booklets and Concert programmes - Who are they for?) it is a pleasure to celebrate perfection for once. This lavish artefact is hard-covered and properly stitched, with articles by Camille Laurens that provide all the background you could want for Alessandrini's edition (transcribed from Amadino 1609), copious colour illustrations, and parallel translations of the Italian text into Engish and French (why not German too, in the empty halves of one the libretti pages?) in clear black on glossy white.

It is the parallel translations which set me thinking. At Wigmore Hall, and often at South Bank, texts are provided with translations, but it is interesting to see how high a proportion of audiences don't look at them - if there is enough light to read them (q.v. ARTICLE Inside Monteverdi; Let there be light!).

On DVDs one has usually subtitles in a generous choice of languages. But the workaday translations can be rather crude and uninspiring. Here, however, one has the best of all worlds; the beautiful evocative Italian of Striggio's libretto, and across to the opposite page Mary Pardoe's English version to keep you on track. This makes for active listening, free from prescribed scenarios by the new breed of Opera Directors (Deflo & Audi in those cited above).

Treat yourself to this admirable presentation of the world's first great opera with the promise of a special treat.

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. An after thought. With the constant advances of technology, and thinking of the split-scene treatment of a recent Aida (the director taking his cue from old films) and the choice of viewpoint in some DVDs (e.g. Ambroisie interactive ), might it be possible now to offer DVD sub-titles for opera enthusiasts with the choice of one or TWO languages (i.e. the original as performed plus one's own) - even if that would encroach slightly upon screen space? PGW

- - an opera in which music and text have equal importance - - one of the finest new releases of the year so far, the version of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo to acquire for any collection [Andrew Clements, The Guardian]