Friday, February 29, 2008


This is a wonderful masterpiece from the end of Monteverdi's life and in the last ten years it has received a little of the attention it so richly deserves. However I can confidently say that this French production, by William Christie and Les Arts Florissan, is the best of the lot. Direction, production, casting, staging, singing and musicianship are--in a word--perfect. This 2002 production which was also taken to the US, has already made stars out of the two Slavic principals: Mijana Mijanovich as Penelope and Kresemir Spicer as the eponymous hero. Mijana is majestically beautiful as the long suffering Penelope and Spicer (still apparently in his twenties) plays Ulysses with a burly grace. Both are voice perfect for the parts, but Spicer's smooth but emotionally charged tenor, is a voice of the rarest quality. Already, both leads are in great demand around the concert platforms and opera houses of the world--and this performance of Monteverdi's masterpiece is where it all began.

Humphrey Burton deserves great praise for his simple but compelling set: a kind of sandbox in which a single artifact or implement often indicates the place. For example, a large vase shows that we are in Ulysses' palace and a billowing piece of white cloth denotes a ship at sea. The tour-de-force is when Ulysses uses his bow to kill the suitors. Minerva (the goddess who always supports Ulysses and is known in Greek as Athena) takes his arrows from the bow and uses them to stab each of the suitors: a symbolic act magnificent in its simplicity and effectiveness.

Minor characters are portrayed excellently both in musical and dramatic terms and a special mention is due to the three actors who play Penelope's suitors: the bass appears to be blind, but is ingeniously led around the stage in a most subtle and convincing way, while the counter tenor is wonderful in his leering sarcasm. The French Minerva is also outstanding as both actor and singer.

People who are easily outraged may be offended by the nudity of the Prologue--though in the context of the symbolism (human frailty) it is entirely appropriate. Furthermore, the nudity is very tastefully done on a stage that is mostly dark.

I thoroughly recommend this renaissance masterpiece and can assure any lover of opera that with this DVD they are getting one of the very best opera productions currently on the market.

Below is a compilation of some memorable scenes from Youtube


Blogger ely said...

Wow, must buy it!

7:29 AM  

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