Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
Tragedia di lieto fine in a prologue and three acts (1640)
Libretto by Giacomo Badoaro after Homer’s Odyssey (cantos XIII-XXIII)
Sung in Italian with German and English surtitles
Print programme (PDF)
Furio Zanasi, Ulisse
Lucile Richardot, Penelope
Krystian Adam, Telemaco
Hana Blažíková, Minerva / Fortuna
Gianluca Buratto, Tempo / Nettuno / Antinoo
Michał Czerniawski, Pisandro
Gareth Treseder, Anfinomo
Zachary Wilder, Eurimaco
Anna Dennis, Melanto
John Taylor Ward, Giove
Francesca Boncompagni, Giunone
Robert Burt, Iro
Francisco Fernández-Rueda, Eumete
Carlo Vistoli, Umana Fragilità
Silvia Frigato, Amore
Francesca Biliotti, Ericlea
English Baroque Soloists
‘It is contraries that deeply affect our mind’
2017 marks the 450th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s birth, known to his more discerning contemporaries as ‘oracolo della musica’. Moreover, Claudio Monteverdi is also considered as one of the founders of opera, who transformed the miniature form of the madrigal into a full-scale music drama. On the occasion of the jubilee, Sir John Eliot Gardiner is dedicating a series of performances of the surviving trilogy of Monteverdi’s great operas to the visionary sixteenth-century composer.
There can be little doubt that the novelty of Monteverdi’s work surpassed the art of his forbears and brought about the dawn of a new age. The repercussions of it are still with us today, and his music has lost none of its power and expressive force. His operas invite direct comparison with the greatest artists and scientists of his age – Galileo, Shakespeare, Caravaggio, Rubens, Titian and Tintoretto. Above all, it is Monteverdi’s talent for communicating emotion through music that is the driving force of his operas. ‘The full unchanging gamut of human emotions – bewildering, passionate, uncomfortable and sometimes uncontrollable – form the subtext of all of Monteverdi’s surviving musical dramas’, explains John Eliot Gardiner. ‘More often than not, he shows a deep empathy for his characters – including the less salubrious ones – just as his contemporary Shakespeare does. Both revelled in juxtaposing tragedy with lowlife comedy. Both men lived on the cusp of exciting and dangerous, cultural worlds.’
The interaction between the orchestra and the singers leads us into a world of love, loss, anger, hope and desolation. Starting in the realm of the demigods, charismatic musician Orpheus descends to the underworld in an attempt to bring his beloved Eurydice back to life. His journey proves fruitless, as he cannot prevent himself from looking back at Eurydice as she follows him back to the living world and he loses her forever to the world of the dead. In L’Orfeo (premiered in 1607), Monteverdi’s first attempt at music drama, the hero suffers, grows, loses himself in the violence of grief and finally comes to a new and deeper understanding of himself.
From the pastoral world of Orpheus, Monteverdi moves to the Homeric world of Odysseus in the aftermath of the Trojan War. Based on the second half of Homer’s Odyssey, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria (1640) is a tale of treachery and deception, eventually overcome by fidelity and love. When Ulysses, King of Ithaca, returns home at the end of a ten-year journey he finds his faithful queen, Penelope, besieged by a trio of unctuous suitors and urged by her advisors to accept a new husband. Ulysses (with both the help and hindrance of the quarrelling gods) eventually convinces her of his true identity, routs the three suitors and regains his kingdom.
Monteverdi’s final opera, L’incoronazione di Poppea (1642), is a celebration of carnal love and ambition triumphing at the expense of reason and morality. Set in a world of shifting alliances, formed and dissolved in the attempt to achieve amorous goals and social ambitions, the opera focuses on anti-heroine Poppea’s ruthless rise from Nero’s mistress to his acknowledged queen. In an opera of stark contrasts, Monteverdi prepares us to despise Nero and Poppea as they are satirized by two disgruntled sentry guards, and yet the ensuing portrayal of the two lovers as they exchange and entwine musical lines leaves us under their irresistible spell.
‘By performing the trilogy in consecutive performances we hope to take audiences on a voyage – from the pastoral world to the court and the city, from myth to political history, from innocence to corruption, from a portrait of man subject to the whim of the gods to a hero imprisoned by his human condition, and finally to a dual portrait of mad lovers, uncontrolled in their ambition and lust. Who is the true victor in the end? Perhaps the music.’ (John Eliot Gardiner)