“John Mark Ainsley sets the gold standard as Orfeo. Add to this...the alert and inspired conducting of Stephen Stubbs and you have a production able to withstand repeated listening and viewing. This is the version I would want to have permanently on my shelf”
“In a perceptive documentary made during rehearsals, director Pierre Audi comments that L'Orfeo is 'an opera about the crisis of an artist: whether art and life are really compatible; what the personal intimate experience of an artist in confronting love and death has to do with his own artistic expression'. Audi's production is starkly conceptual in some ways but the performance has a simplicity and fidelity to the drama.
Carefully timed effects, controlled gestures and economical directness have a powerful impact.
The action is focused around a circular pool of water set towards the back of the stage, behind a dilapidated wall that is used for different purposes – such as sinking to become the passageway to Hades. The Arcadian frolics of the shepherds and nymphs allow dancing, skipping and splashing in the pool; but later, flames emerge to transform it into the Styx.
Audi weds his own ideas about characters to a faithful reproduction of the libretto. Audi's action shows that the Messenger who brings news of Euridice's death is shunned by the Arcadians, whose society is evidently only superficially pleasant (this reinforces the idea that all earthly pleasure is fleeting, as Orfeo is told by his father Apollo in the opera's conclusion).
Plutone's bargain with Orfeo is a vindictive mind game with his wife Proserpina, who desires Orfeo. Likewise, Orfeo seems to yearn for Proserpina despite his quest for Euridice, thus making his moral character tarnished. Audi's skill is to make these ambiguities subtle and paradoxical, for Orfeo's grief and confusion at his permanent loss of Euridice lack nothing in sincerity.
John Mark Ainsley's blend of head and chest voices has beauty and depth, and his acting is equally impressive. Bernarda Fink provides outstanding singing and acting as Proserpina, and Michael Chance delivers a compelling cameo as La Speranza. But it was a bizarre decision to cast David Cordier as an androgynous La Musica who struggles to sing poetically, especially when Suzie Le Blanc – the ideal soprano for this part – steps forward for only a few solo lines.
There are assured contributions from Jean- Paul Fouchécourt, Russell Smythe, Dean Robinson, Brigitte Balleys and Juanita Lascarro.
Mario Luperi looks the part as a giantlike Caronte, although his fast vibrato will not please everybody. The trump card is the superb accompaniment from Concerto Palatino and Tragicomedia, expertly directed by Stephen Stubbs.”
“Simply the most compelling account of this opera yet produced”
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