BBC Music Magazine



Il ritorno d’ulisse in patria

Furio Zanasi, Lucile Richardot, Krystian Adam, Hana Bla íková; Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists/john Eliot Gardiner

Soli Deo Gloria SDG 730

184:30 mins (3 discs)

John Eliot Gardiner’s Il ritorno d’ulisse in patria is a career climax, and a defining production. In 2017, for the 450th anniversar­y of Monteverdi’s birth, Gardiner organised and toured a ‘staged-concert’ trilogy of Monteverdi operas: L’orfeo, Il ritorno d’ulisse and L’incoronazi­one di Poppea. Gardiner had yet to record Il ritorno d’ulisse; so engineers forged this single disc from his three-night run at Wroc aw’s concert hall.

In incandesce­nt performanc­es, the artists turn the opera’s challenges into strengths. Early librettos show that much of Monteverdi’s original score is lost; these holes Gardiner plugs with earlier Monteverdi choruses and dances, accompanie­d by a band twice the size of the 1639-40 original, to gorgeous effect.

Faced with lots of recitative and practicall­y no arias, singers and players abandon themselves to intense arioso, jazzy cross-rhythms between poetry and continuo, and take-no-prisoners dissonance­s. Furio Zanasi (Ulisse), Lucile Richardot (Penelope) and ★ana Bla íková (Minerva) bring a depth of acting almost without rival. As Penelope rejects her horrid suitors, Richardot’s dark hues and jagged delivery sound her grief – her longing for Ulisse, her doubt he’ll return, her desperatio­n at being forced to remarry. Zanasi equals her in vocal expressive­ness: savage as he vanquishes foes, tenderly sensual as he reveals his identity to Penelope. Embodying the goddess who resolves dilemmas, Bla íková is all warmth, strength and radiant beauty. Although the acoustic of Wroc aw’s concert hall is worldclass, this is a live performanc­e: the broadness of comic delivery in particular makes for tough listening, and the super-percussive consonants sometimes disrupt lyricism. Too bad this CD isn’t a DVD. Berta Joncus



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