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luigi dallapiccola ulisse
opera en un prologue et deuxactes

ulisse; claudio desderi
circe, meianto; gwynn cornell
`antinoo; william workman
nausicaa; denise boitard
demodoco, tiresia; stan unruh
eumeo; schuyler hamilton
calypso, penelope; colette herzog
eurimaco; jean-pierre chevalier
il re alcinoo; louis hagen-william
pisandre; paul guigue
telemaco; christopher wells
prima ancella; nicole oxombre
seconda ancella; nicole robin
*anticlea (la madre); marjorie wright

choeur de radio france

orchestre philharmonique de radio france/ernest bour

Naive V 4960 [122 mins]

Soon after Berio's death, this is a good time to renew acquaintance with Luigi Dallopiccola (1904-1975) who, amongst more rigorous and arid twelve-toners, impressed with a lyrical bent as did another Schoenberg disciple, Skalkottas, whose music is tinged with Mediterranean warmth. He was a brilliant pianist and I have a vivid memory of a London recital at St John's Smith Square with his regular partner, violinist Sandro Materassi.

Dallopiccola always had a penchant for the voice, and his cycles for soprano with instrumental ensemble are still treasured in the repertoire.

He approached the myth of Ulysses for the first time by adapting Monteverdi's Ritorno di Ulisse in patria for contemporary music theatre, the beginning of Dallapiccola's lifetime collaboration with Suvini Zerboni in Milan as his editor.
Dallapiccola's operas and stage works are less often heard nowadays. Ulisse (1968) was the last of them, eight years in gestation and perceived as a synthesis of his lifetime's work (F-G Tual). For cognocenti, there are numerous self-quotations to be spotted.

Inspired by the Joyce novel as well as Homer, the narrative is by allusion and reminiscence, never in a direct line. The key figures appear, Penelope less than one might expect; at the end Ulisse is alone on the sea - suggested by Naive's beautiful cover photo illustration. This Ulysses, wandering in search of a spiritual centre to his life, is identified with the sea, a point of reference for the whole work. The palindromic journey in 13 sections is arranged in a symmetrical arch form, centring on his trip to the underworld. None of these explicitly represents Ulysses himself; revealingly, he is

In the mid-decades of the last century I found Dallapiccola's lines still hard to engage with, but upon rehearing Ulisse now, the idiom is comfortable and compelling. The orchestratin is often dense, but this well engineered live concert broadcast makes the text clear and well balanced - the tri-lingual text with translations is easy to follow and the stage directions help listeners to place the scenes.

This is a worthy addition to Naive's collection of rare operas, following Puccini's first two, Le Villi & Edgar. This recording is taken from a 1975 concert performance in Paris, and comes up fresh, with evident all round commitment to the demanding project and thorough preparation under Ernest Bour. The sound is satisfactory and I believe audiences will find that Ulisse is now ready for a new generation. In the current climate of interest in unusual opera, with a gifted set designer and an innovative director it should do well in the opera house.

*Re: marjorie wright anticlea (la madre) - See also Marjorie Wright (who took part in this recording) at pp 88-90 of The Rise and Fall of a La Scala Diva "a must read book for anyone who wants an insight to the world of opera"

** It has been of particular interest to have seen Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria live in Zurich and subsequently on DVD, the latter the more satisfying experience. I reprint here extracts from my review of the live performance:

Nikolaus Harnoncourt/Klaus Michael Grüber Opernhaus, Zurich

- - Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who first directed it as long ago as 1967, considers the radical innovations in new opera of the 1600s to have been as important and revolutionary as the early 20th C assault upon tonality. Klaus Michael Grüber's new production supports Monteverdi's aim to put the human drama in the foreground and individualise characters through musical forms. The sets have an apt simplicity, eschewing fussy detail and spectacular effects. The colours are cool, predominantly white, blue and black, transporting us to a modern day, rather poor Greek village. Penelope's residence is shown as a stark white wall, like a child's depiction of an oracular face, with windows and the doorway opening blacked out. The cobbled ground, which revolves to indicate distance and the passage of time, is painted blue and white, with the face of a God in the foreground. Attention is focussed and concentrated upon the protagonists. Eva Dessecker's costumes are updated and relevant, with Penelope in simple black, like the widow of twenty years she feels herself to be, and she is surrounded by village characters we could have met on holiday. - - at times we were as confused as the principal players, some of whom are in and out of disguise. - - Reality becomes tenuous, with Penelope's importunate suitors become puppeteers, their gaudy puppets ridiculous, and each in turn too weak to draw what purports to be Ulisse's famous bow - - Ulisse alone does so easily, and then in pique destroys the puppets, thereby revealing his identity, which Penelope is however slow to accept .- - The crucial recognition scene between husband and faithful wife was however less moving than I recall it in Pierre Audi's production at the newly opened Amsterdam Operatheater, now many years ago.

- - Monteverdi's reforms gave back the primacy of text, - - he set stories of Homer, the details of which were known to cultured opera goers, so that every character was immediately recognisable. This is no longer so, therefore it is all the more important to make the words readily 'available', by whatever means. - - In Zurich, Italian is the least spoken of the Swiss languages and the Homer text in Giacomo Badoaro's libretto is often quite complex. Without full comprehension there were inevitable longeurs in what was a long evening (three hours with one interval). - - The vexed issue of surtitles came to the fore for us again as we watched, often quite confused despite having read the synopsis, and it was a topic of interval discussion. We met with agreement that surtitles would not have interfered with the staged drama's impact and rather would have helped substantially; people are by now used to having a choice of text languages on DVD and surtitles are increasingly provided in opera houses after earlier purist resistance, which becomes harder to sustain when the sense is so often far from clear even with opera in native language. I would rate this Ulisse as worth seeing but not meriting a substantial special journey.

Arrival of the Arthaus DVD 100 352 confirmed my expectations, the availability of the full libretto before your eyes a crucial bonus, and close focus upon the singers and action (our seats at Zurich Opernhaus were high up and far from the stage) adding a dimension of involvement. Vesselina Kassarova's low key performance, in particular, was far more involving as caught by the camera, and so was Klaus Michael Grüber's realisation of the wooing by Penelope's suitors as a puppet show. The reunion of Penelope with her long absent husband was once again as moving as I had found it in Amsterdam.

Ulisse is the least often given of Monteverdi's great operas, perhaps because lengthy waiting is not the most exciting of theatrical situations, but this DVD helps to make it take its place as the equal of the others. Each of these three is recommendable and would make an enriching purchase. They are amongst the most treasurable in my collection of DVDs and taken together should make converts to the earliest extant operas.