Saturday, 12 February 2011

Living Monteverdi: Janet Baker and Raymond Leppard; Thomas Allen and Hans Werner Henze

Ottavia's lament from L'incoronazione di Poppea, the greatest (surviving) opera of the seventeenth century, indeed probably the greatest before Mozart:

And here, on stage at Glyndebourne, in a role Dame Janet was surely born to play, Penelope, from Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria:

The entire performance may be seen on DVD.

How distant those days seem - and how I wish I could have known them at first hand - when Monteverdi's music was performed as music, as part of a living, dramatic tradition, rather than as a dry archaeological exercise or a mere freak show. (Nikolaus Harnoncourt was a different matter entirely, but he is probably as unfashionable today as Leppard.)  Perhaps our only hope, and it is a slim one, is for composers again to re-imagine Monteverdi's music. Here is the Prologue from Henze's tremendous realisation. Has Monteverdi's music ever sounded so utterly of the Mediterranean? Sir Thomas Allen, Ulysses in this 1985 Salzburg Festival production, discussed it with me in a 2009 interview (for which, click here). Jeffrey Tate conducts the ORF Symphony Orchestra, and what a splendid supporting cast we have too:

In March, we shall see what ENO makes of Ulisse...