Monteverdi's story of how Ulysses returned from the Trojan War and found his palace full of young suitors for his wife and kingdom has been well served in video productions, but never better than in this one. Les Arts F... more »lorissants has set new standards in Renaissance and Baroque music, both for technical skill and for period style. This performance upholds the group's exalted reputation in Monteverdi's magnificent music. Humphrey Burton's direction is effective, with convincing stage action that walks a tightrope between realism and allegory in situations that are sometimes contrived, symbolic, or inherently static. Costumes do not pinpoint any particular period; scenery is minimal almost to the point of nonexistence; what is lost in realism is gained in suggestiveness and flexibility. Various gods and goddesses meddle in the action. Burton takes these departures from realism in stride, most notably in the scene where Ulysses (Kresimir Spicer) shoots the suitors of his wife, Penelope (Marijana Mijanovic), and the goddess Minerva (Olga Pitarch) takes the arrows from his bow and guides them to their targets. As the goddess of love (several divine roles are double-cast), Pitarch strikes charming poses and has a big, pink heart tattooed on her shoulder. The singing under Christie's expert direction is excellent throughout the cast, notably from Robert Burt (the beggar Iro) besides those mentioned above. --Joe McLellan« less
Terry Serres | Minneapolis, MN United States | 04/19/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This a first-rate performance and indispensable addition to early opera on DVD. If you check out my other reviews, you will see that I think very highly of the Jacobs recording from harmonia mundi france, on CD. This is no less magnificent a performance, plus it is a DVD, with superb sound, a compelling staging -- and, at one disk, about 40% the cost of a performance on CD!
The ensembles in the prologue are not quite as refined a blending of voices as in the Jacobs performance, and the Tempo / Nettuno is a weak but not disabling link in the cast. Human Frailty is sung by the countertenor Rashid Ben Abdeslam. I find his voice extraordinary for being innately sweet-sounding but capable of shadowed tones. The decision to have this brief role sung completely nude was risky, but the effect in context is completely natural. It heightens the vulnerability of the allegorical character as he is beleaguered by Time, by Fortune, and by Love. The prologue in baroque opera can be an odd device -- abstract, removed as it is from the immediate action of the opera. Here, the archetypical confrontation of humankind with the forces thwarting its happiness is full of pathos, situating us emotionally for the story about to unfold.
Musically and dramatically, this is a performance that cannot be faulted. I attended a performance of this production at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 2002. Viewing the DVD, I found myself just as absorbed, just as moved, just as awe-struck as I was experiencing it live.
The production design and staging are noble in their inspired simplicity. The visual element never intrudes itself. It only enhances the eternal beauty of the music, bespeaking antiquity, timelessness, and truth. The action unfolds on a sand-covered stage. A large urn in the opening scene is enough to tell us we are in Penelope's palace. Other effective stage devices include Telemaco's ride on Minerva's chariot, their exhilarating flight evoked by a suspended platform and an enormous swath of waving fabric. The heavens where the deities hold their counsel is depicted by a three-dimensional grid of tiny lights. The slaying of the suitors is a true coup de theatre.
There are many many high points in the cast and in the musical performance. Mijanovic as Penelope is intense and regal. Her Ulisse, Kresimir Spicek, is burly and heroic. His ringing tenor has unsuspected poise, depth, and sensitivity. The portrayal of Ulisse must be strong and affecting, to convey the enormity of these final moments of his twenty-year journey. Spicek's performance is second to none in the catalog.
The Minerva is an assured singer and amazing actress. The Eumete is charmingly characterized and beautifully sung by Joseph Cornwell -- as the loyal shepherd he is downright lovable. The buffoon Iro is expertly integrated into the more serious surroundings. Cyril Auvity as Telemaco seems impossibly young, but his singing is fervent and accomplished. Giove is interestingly portrayed -- the singer's fairly light tenor is a Zen-like presence. Even the impetuous couple Eurimaco and Melanta, minor roles, are sung expertly and portrayed delightfully. The suitors, too, are impressive; however, I rather more enjoyed the madrigalesque stylizations as heard on the Jacobs recording.
Monteverdi's ability to marry language and music has not been surpassed in the 400 years since he pioneered the operatic art form. But he requires knowledgeable, sympathetic, talented advocacy to bring the notes on the page to life. This he finds in William Christie, who here demonstrates that his brilliance is not confined to the French baroque repertoire.
One of the most beautiful moments in the opera is the duet between Ulisse and Eumete as they address Telemaco, "Dolce speme il cor lusinga." The recognition scene between Ulisse and Telemaco that follows ("Mortal, tutto confida e tutto spera") is vibrant in its emotional immediacy. It is as moving in its way as the ecstatic recognition scene between Ulisse and Penelope that is the opera's finale.
Bravo, Maestro Christie! You have given us an unforgettable experience. This is artistic expression at its best -- ennobling and enlightening. This is easily my favorite opera DVD. It is far superior to the Harnoncourt competitor, which I would give maybe 3 stars, although Kasarova is no less formidable a Penelope."
J. Luis Juarez Echenique | Mexico City | 05/14/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is opera as theatre, this is opera as it should always be. This elegant and very effective production from France is gorgeous to look at and marvelous to hear. All the singers were chosen for their looks: they all look young, slim and attractive, but they all are also stylish, musical, and imaginative. Marijana Mijanovic (better known for her Giulio Cesare recording under Minkowski) is a poignant Penelope, and there is obvious rapport with her husband who sings Ulisse. Monteverdi's marvelous opera is taken seriously, thank God, there is nothing to contradict him, as in so many contemporary productions.
Everybody involved in this unforgetable production deserves a standing ovation, but none more than William Christie who makes a work of art out of Ulisse.
This is truly one of the finest dvds in the market, it would be ridiculous to miss it."
V Donato | 12/06/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"For the enlightenment of nudity-sensitive viewers everywhere. The nudity on display in the opera is a) confined to the prolog; and b) far less prevalent, and far more dimly lit, than the nudity one would see in any room dedicated to Renaissance Art in any museum.
The character portrayed nude in the prolog was "L'Umana Fragilita," or Human Frailty. The prolog is an allegory, a symbolic representation of how Time, Fortune, and Love beset Humanity. In some stagings the singer who plays Ulisse also takes on the role of L'Umana Fragilita, but usually (as here) not. It is too bad that the below reviewer did not make it past the prolog to find this out.
This performance has exemplary singing, compelling acting, and elegant staging. It is a work of tremendous beauty and spirit. Contrary to innuendo, it is not a Renaissance-period "Oh, Calcutta!" The visual style is not even vaguely Mapplethorpian, and the nudity serves only to heighten the humanity. I can't imagine anyone being disappointed by being "exposed" to this performance. But, then again, "entertainment" is not the word I would associate with it either. It's something more along the lines of enlightenment and elevation."
Monteverdi ~ the "Alban Berg" of the Baroque? ;-))
Steven Guy | Croydon, South Australia | 01/01/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I love this production. The singing, the music, the ensemble and the staging. There is little to be added to any of the other positive reviews of this great work. Marijana Mijanovi? is a very fine and expressive Penelope - her voice is somewhat masculine and even a little "countertenorish". Krešimir Špicer makes a very engaging Ulisse, perhaps a little young, but he has great chemistry with the other members of the cast - who are all outstanding.
The orchestra of Les Arts Florissants is small - cornetti, violins, viola, recorder, dulcian and large continuo group provide us with just enough colour and texture to highlight the drama of the opera. It is hard to imagine a better production of this work.
A word about the nudity at the start of the opera. Some silly prude was bothered by this in one of the reviews presented here. All I can say is "Grow up!" - this is an opera written by an adult, performed by adults for adults. The scene with L'Umana Fragilità is one of the best in the opera - the naked Rachid Ben Ardeslam gives us a vivid picture of an early human being surrounded by the Gods, he believes, who rule his destiny.
Actually, I personally found the oozing sexuality of Katalin Károlyi much more "disturbing" and compelling than the nudity of Rachid Ben Ardeslam. Katalin Károlyi is probably the sexiest opera singer I've ever seen - and she keeps her clothes on!"
Michael Rigsby | Madison, CT USA | 09/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I feel I have little to add to the other reviewers' comments, but am so enthusiastic about this performance / recording that I am compelled to add my own endorsement. Finally, a performance of Ulisse that makes its spendid case for Monteverdi's brilliant, late opera without resorting to muscial gimmicks to make it more "appealing" to modern audiences (though one might argue about the dramatic rationale for a naked Human Frailty, this is not without precedent and if it sells a few a more DVD's that's all the better). I believe this performance owes much to Alan Curtis's recently published edition of the work (available from Novello), and I very much enjoyed following the score. The staging is simple and elegant. Characterizations are clear but never caricatures. Some of the "smaller" roles emerge brilliantly - especially the Eumete of Joseph Cornwell - but there really are no weak links. So don't wait....it probably won't get any better than this in either audio or video formats. I wouldn't discourage anyone from also buying the Jacobs audio recording (Harmonia Mundi) - and I for one will enjoy both and feel grateful that we now have two great recordings of this long-neglected work."