Let me say from the get-go that I was completely blown away by this production of l'Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi filmed live at La Scala Milano! This is a work that has been called by many to be 'the first real opera' (1609), and what an opera it is. Especially in this fantastic production directed by the genius Robert Wilson. He has set the scene in a sort of Limbo, not quite real but not completely unreal either.The opening set is made up of two rows of Lombardy poplars set against a blue sky, resting on a verdant green field. (The Elysian Fields, perhaps?). A golden lyre hangs down from Heaven.
The singers are costumed in off-whites except for Orpheus and Euridice, who are in black. 'Music' is dressed in gold and some of the other leading singers are in grays and one is in red. Their makeup is from the Comedia del Arte, white faces with very distinctive eye makeup. They all wear gloves in the color of their make-up giving a totally other-worldly effect. As the curtain opens, the cast is frozen in place during the overture and gradually starts moving about. A male dancer with a bird-mask appears throughout the opera tying things together. All the movement of the singers is very stylized. Often, even when moving about, the hands are held still in dramatic poses.
And they can all sing! They sing in a very appropriate style for this pre-Baroque masterpiece, with the correct ornamentation for that period. Georg Nigl was the magnificent Orfeo, singing with great emotion and drama. The rest of the singers were equally good. The ensemble singing was of the highest order.
In the second part as filmed, (The opera is in five acts and a prologue) Orfeo sings a very long, tragic monologue begging to be taken to Hades to free his beloved Euridice. It was mesmerizing. The style of singing Monteverdi composed was monody, a change from the earlier polyphony. You might call some of it extended recitativo, but it is breathtaking, at least the way this crew sang it.
I said to a woman who was sitting behind me in the Warner Theatre, 'They could never bring this off at the Met!'. And they couldn't. She and I were two of only 9 people who had bought tickets for this performance. What a pity. These poor 'opera-lovers' who think that La Bohème is the beginning and end of opera are left in a limbo of their own. As Auntie Mame said, 'Life is a banquet, and most poor bastards are starving to death!' I couldn't agree more.
Some years ago when in Venice, John and I were visiting one of the incredible churches in that watery city. All along the aisle were enormous statues of Venetian statesmen from long ago. As we turned up a side aisle, we noticed on the floor a small brass plaque which read 'Here lies Claudio Monteverdi'. Small tribute to a great genius, indeed!
The rest of the cast included Roberta Invernizzi as Music and Euridice, Sara Mingardo as Messenger and Hope, Luca Dordolo as the first shepherd, Leonardo Cortellazzi as the second shepherd, Martin Oro as the third shepherd, Luigi de Donato as Caronte, Raffaella Milanesi as Prosperina, Giovanni Battista Parodi as Plutone, and Furio Zanasi as Apollo. Rinaldo Alessandrini led the period instrument orchestra brilliantly, and of course, Robert Wilson was responsible for the incredible staging.
My hat is off to all of them! If you ever get a chance to see this film from La Scala Milano , run, do not walk to wherever it is playing. Bravi a tutti!