Jamie Barton (Penelope, left) and Jamie Van Eyck (Melanto, rear center) in Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Act II, Wolf Trap Opera (photo by Carol Pratt)
The instrumentation followed many of Curtis's suggestions, with trombones and trumpet a nice substitution for cornetti, but also with an eyebrow-raising addition of xylophone (!) to the gods' scene in the third act -- evocative of magical power, I guess, but jarringly out of place. The orchestra, spilling out into the house, played with balanced tone and precision, from the strings (led by violinist Elizabeth Field) to the recorders (with some second and third parts actually played by the gambist, Lipnik, on recorder) to the brass, who played on the stage in some of the gods' scenes and even in the rear stairwell with the chorus in the sea. The recitatives were particularly beautiful, with pleasing variation of sounds between instruments, including Baroque organ, harpsichord, and two theorbos, and a sense of elasticity that allowed and encouraged the singers to sing this most dramatic (and often misunderstood) type of music with exciting and varied freedom.
Ellen Rosand, Monteverdi's Last Operas: A Venetian Trilogy (University of California Press, 2007)
Preview on Google Books
Ava Pine (Minerva, above) and Dominic Armstrong (Ulisse) in Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, Act I, Wolf Trap Opera (photo by Carol Pratt)
This production is an apt demonstration of one of the points made by Nikolaus Bachler in his interview with Jens Laurson for Playbill Arts, that in opera staging "all the developments from Europe come to the States ten, twenty years later." Indeed, this surreal, postmodern version of Ulisse, with the prologue's allegorical characters and the gods costumed like punk rockers, is quite like something one could have seen in Zurich or Brussels in the 80s and 90s. Penelope's court seemed to be living on the deck of the Starship Enterprise, and the gods with their metallic makeup, leather, and steel headgear and accessories were like refugees from a futuristic techno music video. Vocally, the gods were strong, especially the polished Nettuno of Nicholas Masters (doubling as the winged, platform-booted figure of Time in the prologue) and the booming, if oddly androgynous Giove of Daniel Billings.
Tim Smith, Wolf Trap Opera's dynamic blast from past: Monteverdi's 'Return of Ulysses' (Clef Notes, July 27)
Mark J. Estren, Spirited 'Return of Ulysses' at Wolf Trap (Washington Post, July 27)
T. L. Ponick, A triumphant 'Ulysses' (Washington Times, July 27)
One performance of Claudio Monteverdi's Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria remains, tomorrow evening (July 28, 8 pm).