Monteverdi Operas  in Zurich
Jean-Pierre Ponnelle / Nikolaus Harnoncourt

Media Review / Listening Diary 2015-08-04


2015-08-04 — Original posting
2016-08-05 — Brushed up for better readability

In 1975 the artistic director (Intendant) of the Zurich Opera at the time, Claus Helmut Drese (1922 – 2011) launched a cooperation with Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1929 – 2016) and Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (1932 – 1988). The goal was the production of all three surviving operas by Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643) at the Zurich Opera House. That cycle was complemented by a stage production of Monteverdi’s eighth book of madrigals, including “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e di Clorinda.

The Orchestra & the Singers

For the purpose of this cycle, an instrumental ensemble was formed, the Monteverdi Ensemble. It was later renamed “La Scintilla”. The ensemble consisted of musicians from the in-house orchestra, who received extra training in historically informed playing. External local specialists, such as Johann Sonnleitner (harpsichord), Conrad Steinmann (recorder), and many more were added. Harnoncourt also brought along musicians that Harnoncourt brought along from the Concentus musicus Vienna, such as his wife, Alice Harnoncourt (first violin / concert master). The floor of the orchestra pit was elevated to almost the level of the audience, and close enough to the stage that the pit could be used as extension for the stage. Quite often, actors/singers would enter or leave the stage via the orchestra pit.

As for the singers, the foundation of the vocal team consisted of members of the ensemble of the Zurich Opera House. This was complemented with external hires. These were not necessarily world-class stars, but still excellent people pretty much throughout: singers who were fitting their role(s) and into the ensemble. And they were singers / actors capable of bringing Jean-Pierre Ponnelle‘s dramaturgic ideas to full fruition. In the case of L’Orfeo, also members of the ballet corps were involved.

It was a “rich” production in pseudo-historic (i.e., mostly baroque) architecture and dresses (by Pet Halmen), the stage showing classic “Roman” architecture (all three operas were based on the same fundamental stage architecture with stairs leading up to a central gate, a balcony on either side, etc.).

Enjoying the Cycle as a Student

The cycle started in December 1975 with L’Orfeo, L’Incoronazione di Poppea followed in January 1977, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria in November 1977. The opera series was a huge success, and the entire cycle toured throughout Europe (Hamburg, Vienna, Edinburgh, Berlin, Scala di Milano). In Zurich itself these operas were given numerous times:

  • L’Orfeo — Favola in Musica: 21 times, 1975 – 1978
  • L’Incoronazione di Poppea: 20 times, 1976 – 1978
  • Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria: 14 times, 1977 – 1978

I was a student at the University of Zurich at that time, and living near Zurich. So, these performances were more than just a temptation for me, particularly as one hour before the event, the ticket box in the opera opened, and for holders of a student card any remaining seats (even the best ones!) were available for as little as 5 – 10 CHF. Needless to say that these performances were usually sold out. No more than a very few cards were available that way, if at all. In order to be lucky, one sure needed to be at the front of the queue! Having done this numerous times, though, I knew exactly which of the door personnel would open first. More often than not, I was first or second in the queue, and mostly successful in gathering a seat!

Repeat Visits

Overall, I know for sure that I attended “Poppea” seven times, and I must have seen the other two operas around 4 – 5 times each, plus the subsequent Eighth Book of Madrigals about 3 – 4 times. Typically, of course, there wasn’t much of a choice about the seat. I went through the full spectrum, from rear balcony seats to second or first row box seats, up to a first row parquet seat almost in the center (that felt close to sitting “in the orchestra”).

While the listening pleasure was essentially the same from all (or most) seats, this variety of seats allowed for interesting, additional observations: while from a first row seat there were substantial differences in a singer’s projection and “presence” as an actor, whereas 10 – 20 m farther away, the “outreach” of the singers to the listeners is much more evened out. The top singers, of course, are able to “fill the entire stage” (if not more) from any distance / seat!

A Failed Recent Radio Review

A while ago, the “Building a Library” (BAL) segment within “CD Review” on BBC Radio 3 discussed the discography of Claudio Monteverdi‘s opera “L’Incoronazione di Poppea”: an attempt to cover all available recordings in 45 minutes. Needless to say that this attempt was doomed, in that at least from a listener’s perspective it was impossible to gain real insights, formulate an opinion, or even just to follow the presenter’s argumentation, except perhaps for the handful of recordings that got more attention and had excerpts played.

I don’t want to comment on that Radio comparison, other than stating that both Harnoncourt’s earlier recording with the Concentus musicus Vienna (on LP/CD), as well as the Zurich recording (initially on LP, now on DVD) were dismissed very early on, based on the argument that Harnoncourt’s interpretations “don’t fulfill today’s criteria for historically correct interpretations”.

Why the Failure is Unfair

I think this is both unfair and incorrect, at least in some ways:

Musicological Progress Since the ’70s

True, musicology has progressed a lot since Harnoncourt’s first, pioneering recordings (L’Orfeo — Favola in Musica, recorded in 1969; Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria from 1971; L’Incoronazione di Poppea from 1974, see the addendum 3 below for more information). I have no doubt that the instruments used in that recording were authentic or excellent replicas, and that they were played correctly. However, musicologists have since gained additional insights into historic instrumentation and performance practices. One should keep in mind that at least for some of these operas we just have a mere skeleton to base performances on (e.g., in parts of Poppea just the vocal part and a unciphered bass line). Harnoncourt used a much larger, richer set of instruments than what musicologists today think is appropriate or correct.

We now probably also know more about ornamentation and historic vocal practices in Monteverdi’s time. I think these recordings are still very valuable. But they should be viewed in the context of the early 1970’s, when they were indeed revolutionary and pioneering. That latter aspect can be seen from the amount of accompanying documentation that is included,  especially with L’Orfeo and Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, written by Nikolaus Harnoncourt. This documentation covers instruments, orchestral arrangements, the musical realization in general, and what we know / knew about performances in Monteverdi’s time.

The Focus in Zurich was Not Academic

The project in Zurich, a few years after the initial production in Vienna, carried over very few of the artists from the previous setting (e.g., Paul Esswood in Ulisse and Poppea, Maria Minetto in Poppea). But essentially was redone from scratch, with an entirely different focus. The “pioneering act” was done. Now, it appears that the goal was to make a historically reasonably correct performance palatable to a much wider audience, far beyond those interested in historically correct playing of early baroque music.

Hence the participation of Jean-Pierre Ponnelle (1932 – 1988). He was a true genius in stage direction. I haven’t encountered anyone coming close to his talent. Sadly, he died from a tragic accident in Munich, as a consequence of a falling off the stage, into the orchestra pit. Ponnelle used a “traditional” baroque scenery, but he filled it with symbolism and imagination. He filled the space, the stage with imagination, e.g., in Poppea, “translating” a love duet (which often bears the danger of falling into triviality, etc.) into Nero dreaming about Poppea (who is acting as the dream figure in background). One can sense, almost touch the erotic tension, but the scene remains symbolic, etc.

Similarly, he plays with the symbolic figures virtue, fortune, and cupid, having them interact directly or symbolically, from the edge of the stage, creating a rapidly changing series of symbolic relations through space.

Optimizing the Staffing in Zurich, in the Interest of Dramatization

Add to this a set of singers who are excellent actors throughout; maybe not with many world-class top highlights as singers, but who fit together and build a true ensemble, featuring really excellent acting, lots of lively, often hilarious comedy, Italian gesture language. For this goal, Harnoncourt was willing to accept some compromise in the interest of the dramatization. For example, in his first production, all parts were filled with the originally intended voices, whereby for Nero a castrato countertenor was replaced with a female soprano, allowing for the voices in the final duet (Nero & Poppea) to be ideally mixed / intertwined. In Zurich, he used a tenor (Eric Tappy) for Nero, for a vastly better dramatization with today’s audiences, and similarly, the “trouser role” Valletto is now sung by a high tenor (Peter Keller).

More Compromises for Today’s Stage

  • Some the musicians are occasionally involved in stage acting.
  • Harnoncourt was later criticized for over-ornamenting, especially in the wind instruments.
  • The orchestra staffing and instrumentation is expanded, where necessary or helpful for coping with bigger venues.
  • There are substantial omissions / “short-cuts” from the original score in Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria and in L’Incoronazione di Poppea (the first and shortest opera, L’Orfeo, is unabridged, as far as I can tell), in the interest of the dramatization. Keep in mind that such abridging is common practice on stage!
  • On the other hand Harnoncourt occasionally imported external material: he added a Madrigal “Ardo, avvampo” from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals (see the addendum 1 below) after the Balletto in the middle of the second act in Ulisse. Purists may find that unacceptable; however, dramatically it undeniably “works” very well. The madrigal chosen is one of Monteverdi’s true highlights / masterpieces. Plus, for this particular “import”, the vocal team is singing from sheets with Monteverdi’s well-known portrait, which indicates the “import”.

The Key to Success

All in all, in my opinion it was an excellent, compelling dramatization for today’s audiences. It truly deserved the reputation that it gained through performances in several countries. Actually it also was a career highlight (if not even the highlight) for numerous of the singers involved, and also for Nikolaus Harnoncourt. While the first production strived towards being faithful to the score (maybe, from today’s view, with the exception of some over-ornamentation, and maybe over-instrumentation), with the risk of maybe being somewhat academic, the Zurich production was a revolutionary break-through in its dramatization, capturing vast audiences, making these works really popular.

What About Harnoncourt’s Early Dismissal in the Radio Comparison?

Well, in the case of the Zurich production on DVD (discussed below) I strongly disagree with the verdict. Judging this recording on the grounds of academic score faithfulness completely misses the point, be it only because it “worked” on stage! Certainly, in my case, it worked so well that I can’t even think of seeing other productions on stage. Even after almost 40 years, my mind is still totally “locked” into this realization on stage, both for the visual and the auditive aspects. It takes me no effort at all to remember vast parts of the production, and when I view the DVDs discussed below, it still feels so familiar as if I had been to the opera a couple of days ago!

And I should add that some of the singers in both of Harnoncourt’s productions actually are true world-class — see below! Harnoncourt did a third production of (parts of?) the cycle, again in Zurich, but for reasons just mentioned I didn’t feel like attending, and I have no remorse!

Visiting a “Competitive” Stage Production

One single time, in 1978/1979 I have actually attended a performance of Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. This was also a somewhat baroque realization (with a much more rudimentary scenery, though). One that explicitly claimed to be musically more faithful / closer to the “original” than Harnoncourt’s Zurich production, especially in terms of instrumentation and ornamentation. To tell the truth: I was pretty bored. So, I avoid attending newer productions, be it only because I fear that this may affect my memory of the Zurich series.

But maybe I’m also afraid that I might find myself in a dramatization that places these operas in a modern environment (industrial or banking?) with singers in business suits? Or a production that makes Poppea look and act like a cheap prostitute in a brothel (I’m thinking of a particular YouTube video)? I have seen different claims, some stating that Poppea was a noble prostitute, others claiming she was a noble woman. The former option does not justify depicting her as a “cheap and dirty” sex worker in a brothel.

DVD vs. CD

In the case of CDs, those claiming that the Zurich production is not faithful / “proper HIP” enough may have a (more) valid point, because without the visual, score faithfulness is — also for me — far more important. In that sense,

  • I would strongly recommend selecting the DVD version of Harnoncourt’s Zurich production (it also was available on LP, possibly also on CD?)
  • for a CD version, I’d have to evaluate the available, newer recordings myself to make a real recommendation (the results of the radio comparison above were not compelling or conclusive to me). But even within the domain of CDs / audio-only productions, I strongly feel that Harnoncourt’s first recording (see addendum 3 below) to this day still has more than just historic or musicological value (as an early cornerstone in HIP recordings), even if ultimately one of the newer productions may have the edge over it (e.g., in being less academic).

The Three Operas in a Box:

Claudio Monteverdi / The operas — Ponnelle, Harnoncourt; DVD box, coverClaudio Monteverdi: L’Orfeo / Il Ritorno di Ulisse in Patria / L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, The Zurich Monteverdi Ensemble
Direction: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle
For other artists see below

DG / Unitel 00440 073 4278 (5 DVDs, total 416 min., stereo/DTS 5.1); ℗ 1988 – 2006 / © 2006
Booklet: see below, with the individual operas
DVD not code-locked; language: it; menu: en; subtitles: en, de, fr, es, cn
Harnoncourt_Opern_ZH
—Find DVD(s) on amazon.com—


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This is the complete set with all three operas (5 CDs total). The operas are also sold individually, and I’ll add my remarks to the individual recordings only. I’m not going to describe the content (music, libretto) of the operas. There are plenty of sources for that. I’ll limit my remarks to specifics of these recordings, with occasional looks back to my live experiences with these performances. I should add one general remark here: the requirements for a video are slightly different from those of a live stage, and so, if you have seen those operas live, you will notice some subtle changes in the stage direction. That’s not to the detriment of the video, though, rather the opposite: in the video, the scene is sometimes seen from the point-of-view of one of the singers / actors, certainly enriching the experience.


L’Orfeo — Favola in Musica:

Harnoncourt_Orfeo_ZHClaudio Monteverdi: L’Orfeo — Favola in Musica

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, The Zurich Monteverdi Ensemble
Philippe Huttenlocher (Orfeo) — for the complete vocal staff see below
Direction: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

DG / Unitel 00440 073 4163 (DVD, 101 min., stereo/DTS 5.1); ℗ 1988/2006 / © 2006
Booklet: 28 pp. en/de/fr
DVD not code-locked; language: it; menu: en; subtitles: en, de, fr, es, cn

Harnoncourt_Orfeo_ZH
—Find DVD(s) on amazon.com—


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The soundtrack for this DVD was recorded at the Zurich Opera House, in December 1977. The filming took place in a studio in Vienna, in March/April 1978.

Vocal Staff

On the Composition

This is Monteverdi’s first opera, in a prologue and five acts. The composer presented this to his patron, the duke of Gonzaga, in 1607. I think it is a tricky opera for the stage direction, as for long stretches there is very little “real” action, at least for the key figures (Orfeo, Euridice), but rather just a “virtual” dialog between allegoric figures, or Greek deities, etc. Needless to say that Jean-Pierre Ponnelle has no problem filling the “void” with action (including additional symbolic action not found in the libretto) that makes sense to the audience.

The Zurich Production

Let me mention a few highlights:

Prologue

The prologue is a monologue by a symbolic figure, Musica. Here, we encounter the one female singer that occupies important, if not key roles in all three of these operas: Trudeliese Schmidt. She has an excellent, dense, projecting voice, with the right amount of natural vibrato: a joy to listen to! The scenery indicates the court of the Gonzagas (Monteverdi’s patron), with the nobility on the two opposing balconies above the stage: the choir, which remains present throughout the piece, watching the action, reacting to it, and commenting with songs, where the score asks for it.

Act I

The first act switches to a country scene, with shepherds (pastori) and ninfe, with the young Mexican Francisco Araiza: at that time a promising tenor with a very nice voice,  who started his career in Zurich. Other pastori include the Swiss high tenor Peter Keller: a lively actor, sometimes also singing falsetto. There are also Rudolf A. Hartmann, József Dene and others: long-standing members of the Zurich ensemble. The scenery also features the ninfe (with Suzanne Calabro) and members of the corps de ballet for all the lively dancing.

Then we meet Philippe Huttenlocher as Orfeo. He, too, is singing in all three operas, but this is by far his biggest role, and it must have been an all-time highlight in his career: a warm, full bass-baritone, also with the right (limited) amount of vibrato, and excellent at the extensive early baroque ornamentation in his part. And we also encounter Euridice — Dietlinde Turban, who has a very short role in this opera: an aria here, and another, short aria towards the end of the opera. In the LP edition, this part is apparently sung by Rachel Yakar, but (given the brevity of that part), having a singer — Dietlinde Turban — who better fits the picture of a young, innocent woman seems more important for a video, even though her (very young, not really big) voice isn’t nearly as good as Rachel Yakar’s.

That act also features choirs (coro di ninfe e pastori), sung by the Zurich Opera Choir on the balcony. I remember well that in live performances that choir had the strong tendency to lag behind, especially in coloraturas (to a degree that was irritating), but luckily, this was “fixed” for the video recording: I can’t complain about the result!

Act II

In the second act, Euridice is absent, but we see the Messagiera, Glenys Linos. She is not quite at the level of Trudeliese Schmidt, but still excellent and dramatic here as a tragic role, and later as Proserpina (in a more lyrical segment). And Orfeo’s role turns into a tragic one. His singing remains excellent throughout the opera (and this is a huge role!). One of the few weak spots in this recording is in the chorus “Ahi, caso acerbo!“, where the women use far too much vibrato.

Act III

The third act moves into the gate to the underworld, where Caronte is ruling, taking dead souls across the Styx. The excellent Hans Franzen sings and plays the role of Caronte. He is convincing not by the (moderate) beauty of his voice, but through his talent for strong caricature in this dramatic role. And we again meet Trudeliese Schmidt, this time as Speranza. The figures depicting dead souls being taken to the Tartarus (which happens to be the orchestra pit!) are worth watching by themselves! Most importantly, though, Philippe Huttenlocher‘s purposefully artful, richly ornamented singing is simply fantastic, compelling, and touching, even though it remains (and is meant to be) artistic and artful. And even though it is far away from typical baroque style singing that today’s audiences are familiar with.

Act IV

The fourth act introduces the deities Plutone (Werner Gröschel, a good bass and visually excellent fit in a short role) and Proserpina (Glenys Linos, again very good), and the coro dei spiriti (sung by the chorus on the balcony, death-stunned and motionless), and — after Orfeo’s fatal look-back — again Euridice for a very short segment.

Act V

Finally, in the fifth act, the excellent Roland Hermann: a German bass with long-standing, strong ties to the Zurich music scene and the opera ensemble. He is Apollone, featuring a full, warm voice.

Conclusion

Philippe Huttenlocher and Trudeliese Schmidt alone are a reason for me to give a strong recommendation for this recording. But overall, this is an excellent recording with very few (and minor) flaws only (occasionally, the synchronization between voice and visuals is not always perfect, but that should not affect the viewing experience). I did not mention the orchestra, but it goes without saying that Harnoncourt and his excellent team play up to the excellent level of the singers. This of course also applies to the other operas. Strongly recommended!


Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria:

Harnoncourt_Ulisse_ZHClaudio Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, The Zurich Monteverdi Ensemble
Werner Hollweg (Ulisse, L’Humana fragilità), Trudeliese Schmidt (Penelope), Francisco Araiza (Telemaco), Arley Reece (Iro)
For the complete vocal staff see below
Direction: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

DG / Unitel 00440 073 4268 (2 DVDs, 153 min., stereo/DTS 5.1); ℗ 1996/2006 / © 2006
Booklet: 28 pp. en/de/fr
DVD not code-locked; language: it; menu: en; subtitles: en, de, fr, es, cn

Harnoncourt_Ulisse_ZH
—Find DVD(s) on amazon.com—


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The soundtrack for this DVD was recorded at the Zurich Opera House, in February 1979. The filming took place in a studio in Vienna, in October/November 1979.

Vocal Staff

On the Composition

Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria was the last opera in the Zurich Monteverdi cycle (even though the composer wrote Poppea after Ulisse). Both operas are late works, and both are radically different from the Orfeo. They are also much longer (in the original, each is almost twice as long as L’Orfeo). As mentioned above, Ponnelle and Harnoncourt shortened these long operas in the interest of better dramatization. While L’Orfeo is a fairly static series of arias, duets and choruses, the late operas are full of action, and they also feature a fair amount of irony, even jokes and fun!

Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria is based on a multi-layered libretto, featuring

  • allegoric figures (L’Humana fragilità, Il Tempo, La Fortuna, Amore) in the prologue
  • Greek deities (Giove, Nettuno, Minerva, Giunone), mostly on the two sides of the stage, and
  • the layer of (the last part of) Homer’s “Odyssey”, with extra comedy.

The Zurich Production

The main action is in three acts, showing the interaction between deities, between humans, and occasionally between lower deities and humans. In the following, I’m focusing on the singers, by introducing them in the sequence of their appearance on stage:

Prologue

The prologue shows human frailty (Werner Hollweg) being the playball of time (TempoWerner Gröschel), fate (FortunaRenate Lenhart) and love (Amore, Klaus Brettschneider). Werner Hollweg sings with understatement, weak, mezza voce, if not sotto voce (frail, quite appropriate for this figure). Yet, one can already feel the potential, the power in his (later) beautiful voice. His partners here are Werner Gröschel (exhibiting talent as a comedian with a strong, though not necessarily “nice” voice in this role), Renate Lenhart (OK, not great), and a soloist from the Tölz Boys’ Choir, the latter with an amazingly firm, consistent and projecting voice.

Act I

Here, we first re-encounter a really great Trudeliese Schmidt as Penelope with a beautiful, dense, and expressive alto voice: dramatic, but with very controlled vibrato, and never overpowering; definitely very impressive and touching. Needless to say that Monteverdi’s music for this strong figure is simply marvelous and of utter beauty. Especially the “Torna il tranquillo al mare” (a recitativo accompagnato) is very intense and touching!

In the first scene she is joined by Ericlea, Ulysses’ old nurse, sung by Maria Minetto: well-played, even though the voice (more tenor than alto) is not great. The next scene features Melanto (Janet Perry a light, but fairly good soprano voice) and Eurimaco (Peter Keller, a high, light tenor. In the original, this is a trouser role for a female voice. Melanto and Eurimaco are a love couple: a separate, (well-played) secondary action string with limited interaction with the main story.

Deities & The Feaci

The next scene switches to Neptune (Nettuno) and Jupiter (Giove). The remainder of this act is characterized by several switches (and even some interaction) between the two worlds. Hans Franzen is singing Neptune, similar to his role as Caronte in L’Orfeo. Here, he can play out his great talent in comedy & acting. His accompaniment consists of four trombones. This suits his strong, parodizing basso voice. His furor is about the feaci transporting Ulisse on a ship. Jupiter (József Dene), supported by Minerva, is trying to keep Nettuno’s furor under control. Dene has a strong voice, but (one of the few flaws in this recording) an extremely heavy vibrato (also Nettuno’s is fairly strong, but less heavy, and fits the comedian role). But Dene is an excellent actor, and some of his “Italian gestures” are hilarious!

The three feaci (very short roles only) are played by Werner Gröschel, Fritz Peter, and Paul Esswood. The former two are long-standing members of the Zurich ensemble.

Werner Hollweg — Ulisse

The feaci are defeated, and we now meet Werner Hollweg as Ulisse. And here we hear Hollweg’s real voice, for me the real highlight of the entire Zurich Monteverdi cycle. To me, this is one of the biggest voices that I have ever encountered. He is excellent and still projecting in the sotto voce (that he can easily use on stage!), splendid, and with very good focus at full volume. Sometimes (where it suits the purpose) the voice can be slightly “grainy”, but it always features plenty of metallic “ping”, effortlessly projecting through a rich instrument accompaniment. And the voice is expressive, with a large variety of timbres, a huge dynamic range, and a perfect messa di voce. For sure, this role was a highlight also in Hollweg’s career! Plus, his acting is excellent and genuine as well!

In his first scene, he is interacting with Minerva, his mentor among the deities: Helrun Gardow of course can’t match up to Hollweg’s voice. But she sings her part well, still an impressive voice, with good volume and flexibility, with the authority that is appropriate for that figure, not an excess of drama.

Eumete & Iro

Next, we again meet Philippe Huttenlocher in the role of Eumete. Not quite as prominent a role as Orfeo, and also not quite as compelling as a role. It was probably easier for him to play the young hero in L’Orfeo. But he is still credible, with his warm, soft timbre and good volume. The biggest challenge for him are fast coloraturas. Luckily, these are rare in this role. In the last scene in this act Eumete is joined by Iro, sung by Arley Reece — a great comedian with a very good tenor voice in a role that might have inspired (or have been inspired by) Falstaff? Hilarious, and fun to watch and hear! The act ands with Eumete meeting Ulisse and accepting him as a guest — then…

Act II

Minerva (Helrun Gardow) is transporting Telemaco (Francisco Araiza), Ulisse’s son, to this place, in a cloud from heaven. It is amazing to hear how much Araiza’s voice has gained in power / volume, and balance (while retaining youth, freshness, and his specific timbre) since L’Orfeo. Here, he is an adequate partner to Hollweg and Huttenlocher: really excellent! In the following scene, Telemaco meets Eumete and Ulisse (in disguise), and there is a beautiful duet “Dolce speme” by Ulisse and Eurimaco that strongly reminds of (and anticipates) the final duet in L’Incoronazione di Poppea: a strong invention that the composer may have developed over years. The highlight continues in the following scene, in a very nice duet with Telemaco and Ulisse.

Suitors

Then, the scene switches to the Ulisse’s palace, where we first meet Eurimaco and Melanto, then of course Penelope. The three suitors Antinoo (Simon Estes), Pisandro (Peter Straka), and Anfinomo (Paul Esswood) all trying their best to convince Penelope to marry (one of them) again (Melanto and Ericlea blow into the same horn, but they do it out of compassion). Simon Estes has an excellent, strong bass voice that he can modulate between soft and threatening: a prominent, excellent singer, frequently seen in Zurich at that time. Peter Straka is a good tenor from the ensemble, here playing more of a soft character (with devious traits).

Then there’s the even softer Anfinomo, suitably impersonated by the English countertenor Paul Esswood. I’ll write more on this singer under L’Incoronazione di Poppea below, because that is where I first heard this voice. Suffice to say that Estes dominates the trio, but overall they manage the vocal balance, such that also Esswood’s voice gets a chance to be heard. The action of the suitors culminate in a balletto, where Iro joins the scene, and after the dance, Harnoncourt inserts the Madrigal “Ardo, Avvampo” from the Madrigali guerreri in Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals. Rather than commenting on this excellent piece (and its equally excellent, lively performance), I have included a YouTube video segment below, so you can see for yourself.

Ulisse’s Return in Disguise

While so far the action appeared harmless, things get more dramatic when Eumete announces Telemaco’s arrival, and the possibility of Ulisse’s return. Once Ulisse is present, we can again enjoy his magnificent voice, first veiled, while he appears as a beggar, then rapidly changing to his brilliant, projecting timbre when he first threatens and beats Iro, then challenges and beats the three suitors. Of course Trudeliese Schmidt has another strong appearance Penelope, not just with superb singing, but also illustrating how the queen is torn between longing for her husband, mourning his absence, and doubts about how to react upon the suitor’s constant quests. And then, this is also the time for Iro’s second, equally hilarious and entertaining appearance.

Act III

The last act starts with Iro, first hidden between the dead suitors, then, with a stunning messa di voce, starting his last (solo) appearance, again hilarious even in his tragedy, ending in killing himself on the conductor’s podium. The monologue includes some nice puns, e.g., proci (suitors) mixed up with porci (pigs). One can find similar gags also in the first act, where he is depicting a stutterer.

The following scenes may be the weakest parts in Homer’s original story (Penelope not trusting Ulisse’s identity and denying the validity of all proofs and testimonials that are Ericlea, Telemaco, Eumete, and even Ulisse himself are presenting. Ultimately this requires a solution to the conflict between the deities.

So, for the next scene, we find ourselves again in the world of the Greek gods, where Minerva (the excellent Helrun Gardow) first convinces Giunone (Renate Lenhart), who then gets her husband Giove (József Dene, with an excess vibrato, as usual) to convince ultimately Nettuno (Hans Franzen — excellent in this role again!) to give in, not without repeating at length the insults he went through with the feaci. Giove is commenting using some fun Italian gestures!

The Final Homecoming

We now return to Ulisse’s palace, where only Ulisse himself is ultimately able to convince Penelope of his identity. This leads to the final love duet. This also ends this great opera with two fantastic singers in a scene that — albeit shorter — doesn’t need to hide behind the final duet in L’Incoronazione di Poppea!

The Orchestra

I have not mentioned the orchestra so far. Musicological questions (that I don’t want to discuss here) aside: as far as I can tell, their playing is excellent throughout. Quite fittingly, specific instruments accompany some of the singers:a baroque harp for Penelope, string instruments for Ulisse, a regal for Iro, trombones for Nettuno, etc. Some of this is in Monteverdi’s score, some is Harnoncourt’s setup (not atypical of baroque opera, if not of opera in general).

Conclusion

From the above it should be clear that also this receives a strong recommendation!


L’Incoronazione di Poppea:

Harnoncourt_Poppea_ZHClaudio Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, The Zurich Monteverdi Ensemble
Rachel Yakar (Poppea), Eric Tappy (Nerone), Trudeliese Schmidt (Ottavia), Paul Esswood (Ottone), Alexander Oliver (Arnalta), Matti Salminen (Seneca)
For the complete vocal staff see below
Direction: Jean-Pierre Ponnelle

DG / Unitel 00440 073 4174 (2 DVDs, 162 min., stereo/DTS 5.1); ℗ 1991/2006 / © 2006
Booklet: 28 pp. en/de/fr
DVD not code-locked; language: it; menu: en; subtitles: en, de, fr, es, cn

Harnoncourt_Poppea_ZH
—Find DVD(s) on amazon.com—


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The soundtrack for this DVD is from the Zurich Opera House, in June 1978. The filming took place in a studio in Vienna, in January 1979.

Vocal Staff

On the Composition

L’Incoronazione di Poppea was Monteverdi’s last opera, but the second one in the Zurich Harnoncourt/Ponnelle cycle. To me, this is the culmination of the cycle in terms of Ponnelle’s stage direction. This opera is again entirely different from Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, in that here basically all (maybe with the exception of Seneca) human roles are fallible, evil, or corruptible, and — where “appropriate” — willing to commit (or to help committing) crimes. No gods / deities appear in this play, just the three allegoric figures Fortuna, Virtù, and Amore.

In the libretto, Fortuna and Virtù appear just in the prologue, whereas Amore at one point interferes with human actions. The libretto also features a short appearance of Mercurio, the godly messenger, in a scene with Seneca. In the Zurich cycle, this scene was omitted. On the other hand…

The Zurich Production

Ponnelle has Fortuna, Virtù, and Amore present at or near the scene (be it only in a niche on the side) almost all the time, providing visual comment and enriching the scenery & action. They are a tool for Ponnelle to provide symbolic interpretation of the actions, to illustrate the story, and to widen the spatial scope of the action — whereby the last point may be the most important one. As with Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, the opera is in a prologue and three acts:

Prologue

The prologue features Fortuna (Renate Lenhart) and Virtù (Helrun Gardow), verbally fighting about their importance and prevalence. Both have to give in to Amore in the end. I have written about Renate Lenhart and Helrun Gardow in the discussion of Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, Amore according to the DVD cover & booklet is Klaus Brettschneider. The video lead-in reveals that the singing is actually done by Wilhelm Wiedl, a voice that I heard at least in one of the live performances. There, it struck me as truly amazing, both in volume, as well as in flexibility. He literally almost blew away the two adult sopranos!

The instrumentation illustrates / follows the character of these figures: when Fortuna shows its ugly side, lively oboes form the accompaniment, whereas for Virtù, recorders are playing, and virtue’s coloraturas are rather stiff and old-fashioned. Amore ends with the claim that upon his actions, the world will change — and indeed…

Paul Esswood — My First Encounter with a Countertenor on Stage

The first act starts by introducing Ottone (Paul Esswood), a noble man who is in love with Poppea, entering the scene from the orchestra pit. For me, this was the first live encounter with a countertenor. I can exactly remember the impression that this made on me. The video now lets me go through those impressions again.

I had previously (on the radio) heard the early pioneers in that field, namely Alfred Deller (1912 – 1979, the “forefather of 20th century countertenor singing) and his consort, his son, Mark Deller (*1938), and James Bowman (1941). I felt that Esswood (*1942) took things a bit further, ahead of the early pioneers. But this could easily be because my radio experience with the Dellers and Bowman was with madrigals and early English songs, while Esswood now was filling a dramatic role in an opera.

The volume of this voice was smaller than that of most other singers, but I must say that I was fascinated by this voice, its timbre, by his coloraturas! But of course, that’s also because Monteverdi gave this figure (the first real human in this opera) a really nice, enchanting (though longing, desperate) melody in the “E pure io torno qui…“.

Looking Back at Esswood’s Singing, Castratos, etc.

Of course, by now, almost 40 more years have passed by, and the world of countertenors is a totally different one: there has been a real inflation in the field of countertenors, and the competition has helped furthering the technique. Today’s prominent countertenors have a much larger volume, covering a variety of timbres: some sound like a soprano, most resemble an alto voice, others perhaps more like a castrato. Note that apart from a single, very noisy and otherwise limited recording of the last real castrato singer, we have no real record of how castrati sounded. Many, if not most of the virtuosic soprano parts in baroque opera and in church music were written for castrati.

We do have texts describing their vast amount of breath, their astounding volume. And we have the music that was written for them, indicating that their virtuosity must have been quite intoxicating. For a long time in the 20th century, coloratura sopranos exclusively sung these virtuosic roles. Of course they continue to work with this repertoire (a prime example for such a singer is Cecilia Bartoli). But by now, countertenors have re-discovered that repertoire for themselves. That does not mean that we can now hear the castrato sound again, because the castration had physiological consequences way beyond avoiding the Stimmbruch (e.g., excess growth of tubular bones, making them tall and increasing the size of their chest, etc., which in turn had other effects on their timbre, the quality of their voice, etc.).

Esswood vs. Today’s Countertenors

I don’t mean to diminish Paul Esswood’s merits with these remarks, but I would claim that one should not compare Esswood’s parts in the Zurich Monteverdi cycle with typical, recent countertenor recordings. Voice- and volume-wise, an alto in a trouser role might have offered a richer experience in the role of Ottone. But then, both in Poppea as well as in UlissePaul Esswood, i.e., a countertenor seems a much better fit, dramatically. Whether it’s for the music or for the (somewhat) exotic timbre / voice: I do like that beginning of the first act. Esswood continued his cooperation with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, in projects such as the integral recording of all Bach cantatas.

Act I

We are at the gate to Poppea’s house. Two of Nero’s soldiers guard the entrance: Peter Straka and Fritz Peter, two long-standing members of the Zurich ensemble in minor roles, introducing the audience to the background and the characters of the story that has just started.

Nerone & Poppea

We next see Nerone (Eric Tappy) leaving the house of Poppea (Rachel Yakar. Interestingly we first see just her arm!). With these two we meet the key persons who carry the bulk of the action throughout the opera. The French soprano Rachel Yakar is an excellent singer (both in terms of volume/timbre, as well as in flexibility/coloraturas). And she is a superb actor. She plays, she lives the role of a noble prostitute who has the bodily and expressive means to seduce a man such as Nerone. Later, she is pernicious enough to ask for Seneca’s death, if that helps her purpose.

The Swiss tenor Eric Tappy is more than just an adequate partner. He, too, is an outstanding actor, living his role as perverse (if not crazy), spoilt and selfish monarch, a complete egomaniac and villain throughout the play. And he is an excellent singer with a brilliant voice, well-projecting, excellent at coloraturas.

Arnalta, Ottavia

Once Nerone has left, Arnalta (the excellent tenor and comedian Alexander Oliver) joins Poppea. Arnalta is the truly hilarious role of Poppea’s nurse and confidante, caring for her master, but clever enough to make sure she gets her share: another highlight in this recording!

In the next scene we meet yet another key character, the imperator’s wife Ottavia, the (once more) superb singer and actor. Trudeliese Schmidt is in the role of the empress, mourning and desperate about the fact that Nerone spends all his time with Poppea. Her nurse (Nutrice, Maria Minetto, who we encounter in a similar role in Ulisse, though this time with a comedian aspect) tries convincing her to seek revenge by looking for another man (so, the nurse ‘s morality is rather doubtful, to say the least). Ottavia refuses. At this point, she appears as a righteous person that we can feel compassionate with.

On the sideline, Ponnelle very frequently uses the figures of Virtù, Fortuna and Amore to illustrate (im)morality, love, etc. — an excellent concept, and definitely an enrichment for the action!

Seneca & Scholars

The following scene introduces new characters again: the aging philosopher Seneca (the bass Matti Salminen, a great, dark and deep, authoritative voice) and his scholars, among them Francisco Araiza, Werner Gröschel, and Peter Keller (see my comments on Ulisse and L’Orfeo). Seneca is teaching / preaching his wisdom, also trying to comfort the empress, but in his philosophic thinking he seems pretty far from all reality. Still, it is a voice that one easily remembers from this recording.

Stile concitato: Seneca & Nerone

In an excellent comedian role, Peter Keller (switching between Valletto, page to the empress, and the scholar) deplores the lack in sense of reality in Seneca’s philosophic teaching, as well as in Ottavia’s attitude. His part includes some lines in stile concitato, a feature that is exemplified and used in extenso in the following (excellent) dispute between Seneca and Nerone. The latter discloses his plan to do away with Ottavia, and to marry Poppea. Excellent libretto, excellent music, excellent playing, and superb singing! As a little aside: note the dissonant basso continuo when Nerone claims that Ottavia is “infrigidita ed infeconda“!

Eros & Imagination

The following scene is this erotic love scene which Ponnelle congenially turned into a dream, where Nerone and Poppea don’t touch, nor even look at each other: Nerone sits at the front of the stage. He is totally obsessed by his vision / dream. Poppea (shown only as backlit profile) performs an erotic dance in the background. The entire scene is fantastic, glorious in its effect! In his dream, Nerone conveys his plan to make Poppea empress, and (still in that dream!), Poppea complains about Seneca. In his ecstatic furor, Nerone (now we are back in reality!) commands Seneca’s death.

Now, Poppea rejects Ottone, and this scene gives Alexander Oliver a chance for another comedian contribution as Arnalta, doing Poppea’s hair and fingernails, then in a hilarious aria. Thereafter, Amore makes Ottone fall in love with Drusilla (Janet Perry, whom we have also encountered in Ulisse). With this, the first act has introduced all main characters in this opera.spacer

Act II

The second act starts with Seneca teaching his scholars: a chance to enjoy Johann Sonnleitner‘s excellent accompaniment on the harpsichord and the beautiful sound of that instrument.

Non morir, Seneca…

Seneca receives the order to commit suicide, and this gives rise to the three scholars (Francisco Araiza, Werner Gröschel, and Peter Keller) singing their trio “Non morir, Seneca“. That’s a short, masterful chromatic trio, very tricky in the intonation: superb in this interpretation. That trio includes an intermezzo pointing to brighter sides of life, with love and joy. Here, Damigella (Suzanne Calabro) is introduced. The music then returns to “Non morir, Seneca“, but once Seneca has bid his final farewell, Peter Keller definitely changes his role to Valletto (his double role is an interesting detail in Ponnelle’s concept!). His duet with Damigella bears strong reminders of L’Orfeo in this cycle, but at the same time, Monteverdi’s music includes allusions to the final love duet in this opera.

Nero & Lucano

Musically, the next duet is another highlight: Nerone celebrates Seneca’s death together with his “poet-friend” Lucano (Philippe Huttenlocher), featuring excellent coloraturas and playing by Eric Tappy. Unfortunately, Philippe Huttenlocher is far from being an adequate partner. His voice is too mellow and dark/covered, the coloraturas are clearly above his abilities, he sometimes appears to lose tension, and the acting isn’t convincing, either. To me, this is the one weak spot in this interpretation, even though Tappy’s performance more than outbalances that weakness. The music — needless to say — is fantastic.

In the following scene, in the view of Seneca’s dead body, the empress Ottavia (Trudeliese Schmidt, once more really excellent & impressive here!) turns furious and evil (a devilish angel of revenge!), ordering Ottone to kill Poppea.

Nutrice & Arnalta

An intermezzo follows, featuring NutriceDrusilla, Damigella, and Valletto, giving Maria Minetto the opportunity to show some comedy as well (note that she is also listed as being an actor, rather than a singer!). When Ottone then tells Drusilla that he is ordered to kill Poppea, Drusilla, too, turns out an evil side, by agreeing to help — just to see her (former) contender dead.

The last part of this act is yet another highlight: Arnalta (Alexander Oliver) singing a beautiful lullaby for the sleeping Poppea. Superb singing, with perfect messa di voce and endless diminuendi, down to the faintest ppp, with marvelous accompaniment by lutes and a small string ensemble playing con sordino — very touching, indeed! Moments later, after Amore has stopped Ottone’s attempt at murdering Poppea, the sleeping Arnalta wakes up and calls for the guards, in a hilarious little scene in stile concitato!spacer

Act III

While the first act features the exposition, introducing most characters, the second act has most of the action. The last act is devoted to “punishment, honors and rewards”. First, Drusilla is threatened with torture and death punishment for the alleged attempt to murder Poppea. We find more stile concitato, in Arnalta’s and Nerone’s parts, and excellent singing and acting by Eric Tappy! Ottone joins the scene, and when it turns out that this was Ottavia’s plot, the devilish Nerone saves them from death punishment, banning Ottone, but saving Drusilla, such that she becomes a testimony to his glory, gratitude and generosity. And now he has a really good reason to “discard” Ottavia!

A first love duet (a real one, this time!) between Nerone and Poppea follows. Then, Ottavia has her last, dramatic appearance, mourning, bidding farewell to Rome, friends and honors. Trudeliese Schmidt is excellent, as everywhere in this cycle.

Arnalta — Hilarious

Now the time for Arnalta’s utterly hilarious appearance, now as the nurse to the empress: a true, memorable comedian highlight by the excellent Alexander Oliver!

Irony

Finally, we are awaiting the love scene between Poppea and Nerone. This features an intermezzo: the coronation scene, in which Ponnelle is taking the chorus “A te sovrana Augusta” of the tribuni and senatori (sung from the two balconies) as mockery for the new “fake” empress. From both the libretto, as well as from Monteverdi’s music this is a convincing approach.

Pur ti miro…

The final love duet “Pur ti miro, pur ti godo” is famous, maybe the most well-known piece in this opera. In the original, it features two soprano voices that imitate each other, intertwined, embracing each other. The fact that we hear a tenor and a soprano in this interpretation defeats some of the original concept. However, I don’t think that anyone should feel bad about this, with such superb singers and actors, and such a both excellent and often sublime interpretation overall.

In the Zurich performance, with the last harp chord, the spotlight moved from the love couple in the (rear) center of the stage forward to Amore, sitting at the front of the stage, obviously enjoying the result of his actions, smiling into an enchanted audience, stunned by a “miracle performance”!

Conclusion

Once more: congratulations to everyone who has contributed to this true delight. Also here: another, strongly recommended recording!


Addendum 1:

Some excerpts from the Zurich Monteverdi series (i.e., from the above DVDs) are also present on YouTube. As a representative example, let me include a short excerpt showing “Il Balletto” and the (external) Madrigal “Ardo, avvampo” from Monteverdi’s Eighth Book of Madrigals, both found in the middle of the second act in “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria“:

Featured here are Trudeliese Schmidt (Penelope, just watching), and singing, from left to right in the initial “choir” arrangement: Janet Perry (Melanto), Paul Esswood (Ottone), Arley Reece (Iro), Simon Estes (Antinoo), Maria Minetto (Ericlea), Peter Straka (Pisandro), and Peter Keller (Eurimaco).

Note: video excerpts on YouTube may not be (are likely not to be) from the above DVD edition, but from an earlier TV edition, based on a different (video / audio) recording, that did not reach the quality of the DVDs referred to above.


Addendum 2:

The Zurich Monteverdi cycle was also released on LP. Note that these are apparently not identical to the soundtrack of the above DVDs. I assume that the documentation is correct. I did not verify this by listening through the LPs:

  • L’Orfeo — Favola in Musica: Teldec 6.35591 EK, 2 LPs, ℗ / © 1981
    Here, Rachel Yakar is singing in the role of Euridice
  • Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria: Teldec 6.35592 EK, 3 LPs, ℗ / © 1981.
  • L’Incoronazione di Poppea: Teldec 6.35593 FK, 3 LPs, ℗ / © 1981
    Here, Amore is sung by Wilhelm Wiedl (another soloist from the Tölz Boys’ Choir)

Sadly, as with the DVDs, the documentation includes no specifics about the staff in the orchestra (the Monteverdi Ensemble), except for an alphabetic list of all participants. This covers singers, instrumentalists and everybody else, without details about their role in these productions.

Documentation Issues with the DVDs

It might also be that in the DVD recordings, the singers (actors) on video are those shown above, but the singers (and possibly the audio tracks altogether) are those from the LP / audio only production. I can’t confirm the above staff changes on the LP set. All I can state is that

  • in L’Orfeo, the voice (audio track) for Euridice on the above DVD is definitely not Rachel Yakar, but must be Dietlinde Turban, as indicated above. Rachel Yakar is definitely the better singer / has the far better voice. But this is such a short role that this substitution is not really relevant, overall;
  • as for L’Incoronazione di Poppea, I know from personal experience that Wilhelm Wiedl is an excellent boy soprano (in Zurich he certainly — stunningly — beat the two ladies in the prologue!), but Klaus Brettschneider isn’t bad either.

Addendum 3:

I have Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s first recordings with the Concentus musicus Vienna (not discussed here) on LPs. They are also available on CD. I don’t have the CDs, so the following information is taken from the boxed LP sets. Unlike the recordings from the Zurich production, these LPs come with extensive (even musicological) documentation and a detailed list of the instruments played and of all musicians in the orchestra. I have no idea how much of this was propagated into the CD release, hence, let me at least give the list of musicians here (note the illustrious names among them!), combined for all three operas (not all instruments appear in all recordings):

Instrumentalists

  • harpsichord, organ, virginal, regal: Gustav Leonhardt, Herbert Tachezi, Johann Sonnleitner, Josef Wallnig
  • lute, chitarrone, theorbo: Eugen M. Dombois, Michael Schäffer, Walter Pfeiffer, Toyohiko Satoh
  • baroque harp: Erna Gruber
  • violins, violino piccolo: Alice Harnoncourt, Walter Pfeiffer, Peter Schoberwalter, Stefan Plott
  • viola (alto, tenor), pardessus de viole: Josef de Sordi, Kurt Theiner, Alice Harnoncourt
  • cello, viols: Hermann Höbarth, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Elli Kubizek, Fritz Geierhofer, Friedrich Hiller
  • violone: Eduard Hruza
  • recorders, piffari: Jürg Schäftlein, Leopold Stastny, Helga Tutschek, Bernhard Klebel, Elisabeth Harnoncourt, Paul Hailperin
  • trumpet: Josef Spindler, Richard Rudolf, Hermann Schober, Günther Spindler
  • trombone: Hans Pöttler, Ernst Hoffmann, Helmut Berger, Andreas Wendth, Karl Jeitler
  • cornetto / zink: Don Smithers, Ulrich Brandhoff
  • shawm: Jürg Schäftlein, Paul Hailperin
  • dulcian: Otto Fleischmann, Milan Turkovic

Now, for your reference, let me add some details about the individual recordings from Harnoncourt’s Vienna production with the Concentus musicus:

Monteverdi: Orfeo/Ulisse/Poppea — Harnoncourt, Concentus musicus; CD coverClaudio Monteverdi: L’Orfeo — Ulisse — Poppea, plus
Cathy Berberian sings Monteverdi

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Concentus musicus Wien
For the artists see below

Warner classics 825646327959 (9 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1969/75 / © 2014
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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This newly released box set includes the three opera recordings below (here on 8 CDs), plus one CD on which Cathy Berberian sings “Il Lamento d’Arianna” (from Monteverdi’s otherwise lost opera “Arianna“), “Lettera amorosa” and other compositions by Monteverdi.


L’Orfeo — Favola in Musica

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo — Harnoncourt, Concentus musicus; CD coverClaudio Monteverdi: L’Orfeo — Favola in Musica

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Concentus musicus Wien
Capella antiqua München (Konrad Ruhland)
for the singers see below

Teldec / Das alte Werk (2 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1969/73 / © 1992
total duration: 107’49”
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Vocal Staff


Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria

Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria — Harnoncourt, Concentus musicus; CD coverClaudio Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Concentus musicus Wien
Junge kantorei, for the singers see below

Teldec / Das alte Werk (3 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1971/75 / © 1986
total duration: 192’41”
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Vocal Staff

Different from the “Poppea” below, the role combinations in this recording are not that much different from the Zurich production. For example, combining L’humana fragilità and Ulisse makes a lot of sense. The documentation proves that this production was also featured on stage. So, it isn’t a mere studio production.


L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Monteverdi: L'Incoronazione di Poppea — Harnoncourt, Concentus musicus; CD coverClaudio Monteverdi: L’Incoronazione di Poppea

Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Concentus Musicus Wien
for the singers see below

Teldec / Das alte Werk (4 CDs, stereo); ℗ 1974/75 / © 1993
total duration: 215’21”
—Find CD(s) on amazon.com—


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Vocal Staff

The the number of roles for a single singer, and their combination (e.g., Fortuna + Damigella + Pallade, Virtù + Drusilla, and most other combinations) make me think that this can impossibly be from on a “real” stage performance. These combined roles would defy all credibility. Jean-Pierre Ponnelle had good reasons to tell Harnoncourt (straight into the face) that he didn’t like these productions, and that he found them academic! Also, this being an unabridged production, with over 3.5 hours, stage directors are likely to consider it too long to be feasible.


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