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Program: #17-18, Air Date: 04/24/17

The first as well as the latest in the Monteverdi cycle by Les Arts Florissants, and the Opera Il Ritorno d'Ulisse.

I. Monteverdi—Madrigali, Vol. 1: Cremona (Les Arts Florissants/Paul Agnew). Les Arts Florissants Editions.

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From the Guardian: What was it with Cremona? The great luthiers Amati, Guarnari and Stradivari all had shops in the sleepy Lombardy town. Claudio Monteverdi was born there in 1567, and although he was eventually lured away by the brighter lights of Mantua, Rome and Venice, his auspicious early works were all crafted at home. Paul Agnew and his stylish baroque ensemble Les Arts Florissants are currently performing Monteverdi’s complete madrigals – eight miraculous books spanning the composer’s career – Agnew calls them Monteverdi’s musical autobiography. They’re recording them, too, though not comprehensively or chronologically. More interestingly, they’re grouping them according to city. Volume 2, a lens into Monteverdi’s Mantua years, was released last year. Now Cremona dips into Books 1-3 to show a ballsy young composer flexing his muscles, breathlessly setting love poems and brimming with clever tricks. Les Arts capture all the exuberant invention. Their delivery is fresh and colloquial, like animated conversation between friends. The vocal blend isn’t smooth – the character of each singer shines through, and the result is all the more colourful for it.

Monteverdi, Claudio : Cantai un tempo, e, se fu dolce il canto (Libro 2)
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Ch'io ami la mia vita, madrigal for 5 voices (from Book 1), SV 23
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Baci soavi e cari, madrigal for 5 voices (from Book 1), SV 27
>Monteverdi, Claudio : La vaga pastorella sen va tra fiori, madrigal for 5 voices (from Book 1), SV 36
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Poi che del mio dolore, madrigal for 5 voices (from Book 1), SV 30
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Questa ordì il laccio, madrigal for 5 voices (from Book 1), SV 35
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Fumia la pastorella, madrigal for 5 voices (from Book 1), SV 31
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Ardo sì ma non t'amo
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Non si levava ancor l'alba novella (prima parte) (Libro 2)
>Monteverdi, Claudio : E dicea l'una sospirando allora (seconda parte) (Libro 2)
>Monteverdi, Claudio : S'andasse Amor a caccia (Libro 2)
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Madrigals, Book 2
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Ecco mormorar l'onde (Libro 2)
>Monteverdi, Claudio : O Primavera, gioventù de l'anno, madrigal for 5 voices (from Book 3), SV 68
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Sovra tenere herbette e bianchi fiori, madrigal for 5 voices (from Madrigals, Book 3), SV 62
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Ch'io non t'ami, cor mio, madrigal for 5 voices (from Book 3), SV 70
>Monteverdi, Claudio : Vattene pur, crudel

II. Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria (Boston Baroque/Marton Pearlman). Linn CD CKD 451.

Claudio Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria

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Classical Album of the Week: 'The strength of this issue is in its strong, youthful cast. The Penelope of Jennifer Rivera...with a limpid low mezzo of comparable beauty and expressive power, while Fernando Guimaraes's Ulysses is heartbreaking...' The Sunday Times
'...undoubted integrity and many sterling assets. It unquestionably earns a place among the better recordings of the opera.' Early Music Review

'Mezzo Jennifer Rivera is a lovely, modest Penelope and her voice is beautiful, much in the Janet Baker mold… Fernando Guimarães sings Ulisse with feeling, intelligence, and an appealing light baritone–based on their vocal colorations, this Ulisse and Penelope make a fine couple.'

'The most impressive performance comes from Aaron Sheehan whose light lyrical voice delivers the music with utter naturalness.'
BBC Music Magazine

Portuguese tenor and Baroque specialist Fernando Guimarães stars in the title role, alongside the internationally renowned mezzo-soprano Jennifer Rivera as his loving wife Penelope in this GRAMMY-nominated recording. Il ritorno d'Ulisse was a relatively recent discovery, but following its authentication in the 1950s and revivals in Vienna and Glyndebourne, the opera has enjoyed new found popularity. Martin Pearlman's new performing version benefits from the same attention to detail that has ensured his reputation as a leading champion of period performance. His highly considered approach to all aspects of the score and performance ensure this version is true to Monteverdi's original vision. With a libretto drawing from Homer's Odyssey, Il ritorno d'Ulisse is a riveting human drama with an enviable cast.

From Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland) is undoubtedly the least-known of the three surviving operas of Claudio Monteverdi, and its authenticity was long doubted. Composed in 1639, it has been called the first modern opera; it shows signs of the differentiation into recitative, arioso, and aria that would come into full bloom with Monteverdi's late masterpiece, L'incoronazione di Poppea. The opera travels the dramatically fertile ground of Ulysses' return home after his Odyssey, only to find Penelope being hit on to the max by the local male population. The libretto by one Giacomo Badoara constructed a variety of plausible plot devices around the story, and Monteverdi responded with musical characterizations that gather strength as the opera proceeds even if there is no show-stopper number here as there are in Poppea and Orfeo. The opera has come down with no real indication of orchestration, and that provided by the Boston Baroque and music director Martin Pearlman is pretty sparse despite the presence of a huge theorbo. A photo in the booklet, which includes the complete libretto in Italian and English, shows what the mood of this Boston production must have been like in person, and one feels of the singers, especially Jennifer Rivera as Penelope, that they probably put the drama across in live performance.

III. Monteverdi—Madrigali, Vol. 3: Venezia (Les Arts Florissants/Paul Agnew) Harmonia Mundi CD HAF 8905278.

Monteverdi: Madrigali, Vol. 3 - Venezia

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From TheGuardian: After discs devoted to the madrigals that Monteverdi wrote in Cremona and Mantua, the final part of Les Arts Florissants’ anthology includes pieces from the Seventh and Eighth books. Published in Venice in 1619 and 1638 respectively, they were the last such collections to appear in the composer’s lifetime, and the 51 numbers (29 in book seven, 22 in book eight) include some of Monteverdi’s greatest music.

Selecting a single disc of music from such a rich treasury is a real challenge, and director Paul Agnew has mixed familiar pieces such as Lamento della Ninfa and Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda (both from book eight) with less familiar, smaller-scale settings, from the relatively traditional Allume delle Stelle (book seven) to the vivid contrasts of Altri Canti d’Amor (book eight). But then, the Arts Flo series never set out to be comprehensive; it’s more a celebration of the joyous range and variety of Monteverdi’s madrigals as they evolved over six decades.

The recordings come from concerts in Paris in 2014 and 2015, and in theatrical settings like Combattimento, the live occasion does give the performance an extra edge of vividness. Elsewhere some might miss the earthy, sensuous quality that Italian groups such as La Venexiana, savouring every syllable, bring to this repertoire. But the typical refinement of Les Arts Florissants and the scrupulous way voices and instruments complement each other are a treat in themselves.

Tempro la cetra (Symphonia)

Al lume delle stelle

Con che soavità (Book 7)

Chiome d'oro (Book 7)

Interrotte speranze

Lettera amorosa

Tirsi e Clori, ballo concertato (Book 7)

Altri canti d'Amor (Book 8)

Dolcissimo uscignolo

Lamento della Ninfa (Book 8)

Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

Composer Info

Claudio Monteverdi

CD Info

CD CKD 451, CD HAF 8905278