GRAMOPHONE AWARDS SHORTLIST 2019
Gérard from Mocénigo’s assassins. When, at the wedding celebrations, Gérard tries to kill his rival, Lusignan spares his life. Two years later, Gérard turns up from Rhodes as one of the Knights of St John. Mocénigo is arrested and the dying Lusignan rallies before joining Gérard’s men in defeating the invading Venetians. The widowed Catarina shows the new king, her infant son, to the people, while Gérard and his fellow knights sail away.
The Palazzetto Bru Zane has done Halévy’s reputation an enormous service by presenting this splendidly cast recording in a new edition painstakingly assembled by Volker Tosta. Some passages are probably being heard for the first time; other passages are omitted, including the ballets and, oddly, the chorus of gondoliers described in an accompanying article as ‘so popular in its day’. Given that another recording is unlikely to appear for a long time, it’s a pity that Bru Zane didn’t go the whole hog and add a third CD so that the whole score could be given, variants and all. And what a score! It has almost everything you could wish for: heartfelt airs, passionate duets, powerful ensembles, subtle orchestration. Halévy makes telling use of reminiscence motifs, such as the phrase beginning with four repeated notes to represent Mocénigo and his plotting. ‘Almost everything’, because the man is a bare-faced thug, not a two-faced schemer like Shuisky in Boris Godunov for whom the tenor voice seems entirely appropriate. Éric Huchet does well but it would have been more effective if Halévy had made Mocénigo a sepulchral bass.
Catarina was written for Rosina Stoltz, the mistress of the director of the Opéra. Hers is the first voice we hear, quickly followed by Gérard’s. Their duet establishes their love, so soon to be frustrated, the first act ending with Andréa’s forbidding the marriage. It’s not till the beginning of Act 2, after a creepy entr’acte featuring pizzicato lower strings, solo woodwind and a church bell, that the focus is on Catarina alone. Véronique Gens, in superb voice, is dramatically convincing throughout, as though she were in a staged performance.
Cyrille Dubois is equally magnificent as Gérard, a part written for Gilbert Duprez. His great Scene and Air comes in Act 4, where he prepares to murder Lusignan. Michael Spyres included the latter section in his ‘Espoir’ recital (Opera Rara, 10/17); here we have the whole thing, top B flat, C and D flat ringing out brilliantly and fearlessly at the end. ‘Salut à cette noble France’, Gérard’s stirring number with Lusignan,
goes with a swing, Halévy here tipping his hat to the duet ‘Amour sacré de la patrie’ in Auber’s La muette de Portici. Étienne Dupuis, sensitive in the ensuing ‘Triste exilé sur la terre étrangère’, is touching in his dying farewells. Chorus, orchestra and Hervé Niquet’s conducting are exemplary. An absolutely thrilling recording. Now which enterprising company is going to stage this masterpiece? Richard Lawrence (9/18)
Monteverdi Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria Furio Zanasi bar �Ulisse Lucile Richardot mez �Penelope Krystian Adam ten �Telemaco Hana Blažíková sop �Minerva/Fortuna Gianluca Buratto bass �Tempo/Nettuno/Antinoo Michał Czerniawski counterten �Pisandro Gareth Treseder ten �Anfinomo Zachary Wilder ten �Eurimaco Anna Dennis sop �Melanto John Taylor Ward bass-bar �Giove Francesca Boncompagni sop �Giunone Robert Burt ten �Iro Francisco Fernández-Rueda ten �Eumete Carlo Vistoli counterten �Umana Fragilità Silvia Frigato sop �Amore Francesca Biliotti contr �Ericlea Monteverdi Choir; English Baroque Soloists / John Eliot Gardiner SDG M c SDG730 (3h 5’ • DDD) Recorded live at The National Forum of Music, Wrocław, Poland, September 7‑9, 2017 Includes libretto and translation
John Eliot Gardiner’s recordings of Orfeo and L’incoronazione di
Poppea both stretch back several decades but it has taken until now for the conductor to tackle the composer’s great paean to married love, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria. The result is both the end of a cycle and the beginning of a new era, clearly related to Gardiner’s earlier accounts but≈refined and refashioned for another age and audience. Monteverdi’s 450th anniversary gave us a year of musical celebration but no tribute was more elaborate than that by Gardiner, who assembled a hand-picked ensemble of soloists to tour the composer’s three surviving operas internationally over the course of more than six months with his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists. In the concert hall these semistagings were arresting experiences with the orchestra at their heart, the drama emerging organically from the close relationship between singers and ensemble rather than relying on any elaborate staging.
It’s an approach that lends itself naturally to disc, and this account (recorded live towards the end of the tour in Wrocπaw) has an appealing energy and ease. Recitatives flicker and spark with detail, the repartee of the court, the blandishments of the young lovers, the pronouncements of the gods and the halting reconciliation between husband and wife each coloured distinctly. Instrumental textures are spare and speeds swift, and there’s a welcome sense of narrative drive through a story that lacks the easy sensation of Poppea or the episodic structure of Orfeo.
It’s a commonplace to point to the Shakespearean quality of Ulisse, but the opera’s broad dramatic lens – its colliding of high and low, of broad comedy and finely drawn psychology – and its backand-forth, text-driven drama is truly that of a sung play. Where Gardiner’s performance comes into its own is in its ability to absorb these extremes into a coherent whole. Text is king, but it’s the rhetoric of the English Baroque Soloists that really counts: sensitive to every inference and shift of mood, it’s their instrumental inflections and colouring that fills out the silhouette of the sung drama. The shy beauty of the recorders that support Penelope’s timid closing attempt at aria (compared to the forthright exuberance of those that accompany the reunion of Ulisse and Eumete), the frothy, suddenly self-conscious detail of the realisations that accompany the suitors, the crisp authority of the strings that support Minerva’s pronouncements – all are part of a single, richly drawn world.
Furio Zanasi is a smooth, patrician Ulisse, scarcely convincing as a beggar but revealing unexpected ferocity in the conflict of the court. Set alongside Lucille Richardot’s handsome, masculine Penelope the effect is interesting – of a woman hardened, dried up, by her isolation in a man’s world, and a war-ravaged man who must coax her once again into softness. Compared to the glowing severity of Christine Rice with Les Arts Florissants, or Bernarda Fink under René Jacobs (both Harmonia Mundi), vocally pliant even at her coolest dramatically, Richardot is markedly less lovely, thawing only slightly in her final release into aria – the only slight weakness in an otherwise strong ensemble cast.
Hana BlaΩíková is a radiant Minerva, while Gianluca Buratto brings charred blackness and depth to Nettuno and suitor Antinoo. Anna Dennis is all warm
34 GRAMOPHONE SHORTLIST 2019