IL RITORNO D’ULISSE IN PATRIA – an opera in a prologue and three acts.
Music by Claudio Monteverdi, Libretto by Giacomo Badoaro.
A 2022 DYNAMIC release of a two-DVD recording made at the Teatro della Pergola, in 2021.
Claudio Monteverdi was a 73-year-old man when he undertook the creation of his IL RITORNO D’ULISSE IN PATRIA, one of his only three surviving operas, and one in which bloodshed at the hands of the avenging Ulisses (with help from the goddess Minerva) is tempered at the end by humor and a reunited husband and wife.
Depending on whose judgment one trusts, IL RITORNO D’ULISSE IN PATRIA can be called (as a wag once did) an ugly duckling or, as this listener is more inclined to contradictorily name it, a much-to-long and yet charming masterpiece.
Il Ritorno is untidy and drawn out, mostly the fault of Badoaro’s second-rate libretto. But the work’s virtues, all contained in Monteverdi’s music are many, because by this point in his musical journey, Monteverdi had achieved the kind of assuredness that only comes with age and practice.
Retaining his always expressive recitatives, the composer added a few ensembles and arias still in a through-composed manner that sustains the interest of the viewer-listener through the very end of the opera’s three acts, notwithstanding the dilly-dallying storytelling of its librettist, who called this work “una tragedia con un fine lieto” (a tragedy with a happy ending.)
Both the superb American tenor Charles Workman and the lovely French contralto Delphine Galou are first rate singing actors, comfortable in the Monteverdi musical language. Smartly elegant in their roles, they both negotiate moments of serious drama, unpredictably followed by comedy.
The director Robert Carsen manages the proceedings with a perfect balance of nobility (the ever-present gods) and humanity (the occupants of Penelope’s palace). His production gets a terrific look thanks to Radu Boruzescu’s impressive set and Luis Carvalho’s gorgeous costumes.
In addition to the two central characters played by Workman and Galou, an international cast of approximately a dozen and a half does wonders playing gods, servants, Penelope’s suitors, family, and friendly strangers. Helping the audience navigate the transitions from drama to broad comedy, and all the while stylishly singing Monteverdi’s music, the cast of principals and supporting artists is sheer perfection.
Ottavio Dantone magisterially leads the Accademia Bizantina playing in authentic Baroque instruments.
Odysseus to the Greeks (Ulysses to the Romans) is the hero of the Odyssey, the epic that describes his travels, lasting ten years, as he attempts to return home to Ithaca after the Trojan War. Monteverdi and his librettist focus on the events that following Ulisses’ arrival in Ithaca lead to his being reunited with Penelope, his wife and Queen. In so doing Monteverdi created a much-too-long yet riveting account.
Rafael de Acha © 2022