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Claudio Monteverdi, L'Orfeo, Ian Bostridge, Patrizia Ciofi, Natalie Dessay, Véronique Gens, Paul Agnew, Le Concert d’Astrée, Emmanuelle Haïm (released on April 6, 2004)
La musica, pivotal divinity in Claudio Monteverdi's L’Orfeo, rises up in a sort of square box suspended in emptiness. In a grand costume, grenadine velours gown, embroidered, with jewels and brown curls carefully arranged down her front. While she sings of Orfeo's destiny, the prologue of what is normally called the first opera in music history -- which is not precisely correct but also not completely in error -- with her image expanded on a giant screen, she moves her back and her rounded hands dance a sorceress's ballet around the actual person floating on her cushion. A bluish light bathes the beginning of the first act: a city square with open sky, motor scooters and Vespas around which a group of young people congregates, dressed like you and me, twenty years old. The sounds that rise from the orchestra pit -- lutes, theorbos, harps, viols, cornetti, and sackbuts -- are pure Baroque. The contrast is one of smiling freshness. [...]Le Concert d’Astrée is six years old now, prestigious enough to have been invited for a residency with the Opéra de Lille. This model -- inviting a Baroque performance ensemble to produce Baroque operas regularly in a mainstream opera theater -- is becoming the norm in Europe, and I hope it catches on in the United States. This production will travel to the Théâtre Municipal de Colmar (June 9 and 11), the Théâtre de la Sinne de Mulhouse (June 17, 19, and 21), and the Opéra du Rhin in Strasbourg (June 27 and 29, July 1 and 3), so there may be more reviews next month.
The Italian man of the theater Giorgio Barberio Corsetti creates a mixture of genres, times, spaces, and techniques. Video often provides him the unifying thread, like those sauces that chefs use to adjust the ingredients of a dish. He films the actors, the singers, in vast, intimate scenes and choreographed movements, he makes their images float, in all poses, on the horizontal or upside down. Dreamlike reflections of actions that are unfolding on the stage... Other effects of transposition are less fortunate. Inside Hell, Proserpina and Pluto are transformed into a middle class couple glued in front of their television, the three spirits in flesh-colored leotards (they all look naked) make little cakes for them that look like white stones. Elsewhere those stones will serve, as in Le Petit Poucet [Tom Thumb], as a way to show Eurydice the way to go, behind Orfeo, to try to go back to the surface. This is the eternal problem of these radical shifts, which always run into trouble along the way -- most often, in the second half of the story -- because of some insurmountable obstacle, a detail that belongs in the original era and will not or cannot be changed.