La storia di Orfeo
Monteverdi, Sartorio, Rossi
Philippe Jaroussky: Orfeo; Emőke Baráth: Euridice
Coro della Radiotelevisione svizzera
Diego Fasolis, conductor
La storia di Orfeo (“Orpheus’s story”) stems from the great success that the figure of the legendary poet Orpheus enjoyed since the rediscovery of classical literature during the Renaissance, when this myth became one of the favourite and most readapted one in literature, art and music. Claudio Monteverdi’s famous opera is actually only one of many musical settings of the myth and, as the present recording testifies, other composers attended at the composition of operas devoted to the same subject.
La storia di Orfeo collects excerpts from three Orfei: Monteverdi’s masterpiece together with selected pieces from the homonymous operas written by Antonio Sartorio and Luigi Rossi.
Monteverdi’s Orfeo was commissioned by Prince Francesco Gonzaga, heir to the throne of the Duchy of Mantua, in Northern Italy, and received its premiere at the Ducal Palace of Mantua in occasion of Carnival 1607. The favola pastorale, composed to the libretto by Alessandro Striggio, is modelled after Jacopo Peri’s Euridice but pursues a wider and more eclectic aim as it is revealed by the larger instrumental ensemble and by the coexistence of traditional and modern elements in the musical texture.
Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo, performed for the first time in Paris, at the Palais Royal, in 1647, was composed at the request of Cardinal Mazarin, condition that influenced the structure of the opera in the first place and its success in the second. Mazarin was known to like the extravagance of Italian spectacle and for this reason librettist Francesco Buti enormously extended the original myth with the addition of new characters and intrigues, an adaptation which the myth of Orpheus had already underwent in literature (in Stefano Landi’s La morte di Orfeo, for example).The mixed reception of Orfeo was mainly due to political rather than musical reasons because the Cardinal’s enemies denounces the expenses of the staging. Anyway, Mazarin seemed to appreciate the work and composers as Lully were subsequently inspired by its music.
The last Orfeo is the one composed by Antonio Sartorio, a Venetian composer active both in Italy and Germany. The first performance of the opera took place in 1672 and was not exempt from criticism for the libretto, written by Aurelio Aureli, and for the scenery and costumes, while Sartorio’s music and Tonina Coresi’s singing in the part of Euridice were highly praised. The main reason why the libretto aroused the scepticism of the contemporaries is probably due to Aureli’s representation of Orfeo as a jealous husband and to the interpolation of superfluous episodes that diverted the attention from the main plot.
As you may notice, the three operas were written in a lapse of time of sixty-five years and were destined to audiences of different countries but, despite all this, La storia di Orfeo is an harmonious album and benefits of a kind of compactness that some of the original operas lacked. Orpheus’s story is narrated here in its essential episodes, avoiding digressions as those that had characterized the libretti used by Sartorio and Rossi and limiting the characters to the main two with the addition of the chorus.
Sadness influences the music of the most part of the opera with few exceptions at the beginning and in the final chorus, but his mood is (unintentionally) in contrast with the bright voices of Philippe Jaroussky and Emőke Baráth. The first thing that is to be noticed about them (since they appear together in the duet at the beginning of the opera, Cara e amabile catena) is that their voices are incredibly similar, but this is not monotonous and explains even better the strict relationship between the mythical poet and his spouse. Jaroussky has all the qualities to suit the light and pastoral atmosphere of the opera(s) and his flexible and clear voice is perfect to portray a poetic character as Orfeo. His gentleness and placidity are particularly valuable in Possente spirto e formidabil nume, the fulcrum of Monteverdi’s Orfeo and now one of the most important arias of the new opera, which for the first time has been performed by a countertenor on disc. For her part, Baráth is an extremely fine and sweet Euridice with a hint of innocence and grace that makes her a little nicer and “human”, something that is really enjoyable in Mio ben, teco il tormento.
The exquisite conduction of a specialist as Diego Fasolis gives the final touch to La storia di Orfeo. The conductor’s knowledge of the Baroque repertoire has its weight as he is able to stress sorrow and joy without ever sacrificing the delicate and light nuances of this kind of music, which never loses its brilliance thanks also to the contribution of a refined orchestra as I Barocchisti.
Nothing in La storia di Orfeo seems out of place: the excerpts from the three operas are very well selected for their musical quality and offers a simplified plot that it is easy to follow, while the excellent execution of outstanding performers presents the music in the best possible way. Therefore, the outcome is flawless from any point of view.