Monteverdi: L’Orfeo

Mirko Guadagnini Orfeo, Emanuela Galli La Musica/Euridice, Marina De Liso Messaggiera, Cristina Calzolari Proserpina, Matteo Bellotto Plutone, José Maria Lo Monaco Speranza, Salvo Vitale Caronte, Vincenzo Di Donato Apollo, Francesca Cassinari Ninfa, Giovanni Caccamo Pastore I, Makoto Sakurada Pastore II/ Spirito I, Claudio Cavina Pastore III, Tony Corradini Pastore IV/Spirito II, La Venexiana, Claudio Cavina
114:52 (2 CDs in a cardboard box)
Glossa GCD 920941

Originally recorded in 2006, but out of the catalogue for some time, this reissue of La Venexiana’s Orfeo  has obviously been timed to contribute to the celebrations for the 250 anniversary of the composer’s birth. Claudio Cavina came to it on the back of a cycle of the composer’s madrigals, an intégrale  that in my view served the earlier books better than the later ones. In any event Orfeo  is a rather different undertaking, though of course it contains madrigalian choruses, so it is interesting to discover – I missed the set first time round – that my principal reservations are much in line with those I had about some of the madrigals.

These reservations can be summed up in one word: portentousness. As he did with the later books of madrigals, Cavina has sought to impose a layering of flexible expressiveness that is surely foreign to the music. This makes itself manifest in some curious rhythmic decisions, but above all in tempos that result in what may be the longest performance of the opera on CD. If one takes as just a single example ‘Possente spirto’, Orfeo’s appeal to Charon (the boatman of the Styx) and the most famous set piece in the opera, is much the slowest performance I’ve ever heard. Not only does this undermine the whole point of the song, which becomes tedious rather than seductive, but it also causes problems for the singer Mirko Guadagnini, who is at times unable to sustain accurate pitch. Guadagnini is in any event a rather average Orfeo, missing much of the passion of the role and coping only moderately well with the florid ornamentation that is such an integral part of ‘Possente spirto’. While on the subject of ornamentation, there is throughout the set a disappointing lack of it, the topic going un-remarked in a long and somewhat pretentious essay on the subject of the performance practice adopted.

The remainder of the cast is variable. Emanuela Galli sings both La Musica and Euridice. The instrumental introduction to the former is introduced in heavily mannered style, but I like the way Galli varies each of the five strophic verses and she is very good indeed with dramatising the text. Her Euridice is fine, if not especially remarkable and her sad return to Hades after the fatal glance is nothing like as moving as that of the young British soprano Rachel Ambrose Evans in the performance by I Fagiolini I’d seen just a couple of weeks earlier. The large cast of supporting singers varies in accomplishment from a poor Speranza to the excellent Plutone of Matteo Bellotto, but is in general terms more than serviceable, although again some of Cavina’s tempos are most likely responsible for the odd pitch problem experienced by some of them. Given that Cavina would surely not dream of employing multiple voices to a part in Monteverdi’s madrigals, it seems curious (and unconvincing) that he has expanded the chorus here. The overall excellence of the instrumental playing is one of the unreserved plusses, but in sum this is not a performance I would feature in a recommended list of Orfeo  recordings.

Brian Robins