Friday 18 April 2014

Caccini's L'Euridice

Caccini - L'Euridice - naive
Giulio Caccini - L'Euridice: Rinaldo Alessandrini, Concerto Italiano: naive
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Apr 18 2014
Star rating: 4.0

Vivid live performance of one of the first ever operas

Opera as we know it seems to have been invented around the turn of the 16th century in Florence. Thanks to an element of controversy with two different composers staking some claim, we have two of the earliest operas surviving as published musical texts. It was Jacopo Peri's L'Euridice that was premiered at the wedding celebrations of Maria de Medici and Henri IV of France in Florence in 1600. But students of composer Giulio Caccini took part and Caccini insisted they sing his music, so the first performance was a hybrid. Peri soon went into print with a version that had only his music. Then Caccini, not to be outdone, published his version.

It is Giulio Caccini's L'Euridice that Rinaldo Alessandrini and Concerto Italiano have recorded here, on naive, taken from live performances at the Innsbrucker Festwochen der alten Musick, with a cast including Silvia Frigato, Furio Zanasi, Gianpaolo Fagotto, Luca Dordolo, Sara Mingardo, Monica Piccinini, Antonio Abete, Matteo Bellotto and Mauro Borgioni.

Neither Caccini nor Peri's L'Euridice were the first, we know both composers wrote earlier operas which do not survive. But the occasion and the controversy mean that we have the published scores. Monteverdi would return to the Orfeo story, to a different libretto, in his wedding opera for the court at Mantua and Monteverdi would create a far greater opera. I heard Peri's opera when it was performed in Florence in the late 1970's, but this disc was my first acquaintance with Caccini's opera.

Caccini writes extended arioso like recitative. If you read what composers were writing at the time, then their prime concern seems to have been with the development of the seconda prattica, the performance of solo music with instrumental accompaniment that we we are familiar with from madrigals of the period. It is this conversation in music which is the essential characteristic of this piece, written with remarkable freedom. Caccini uses madrigal like choruses for punctuation and there are aria like moments, but he does not seem to have been interested in writing memorable showy or melodically memorable music. (He could write memorable melodies, and did so in some of his solo madrigals).

Alessandrini performs live with a cast of Italian speaking singers, to the great benefit of the performance. This is a highly vivid and highly characterful performance, the singers really achieve a sense of speaking through music. There is a certain austerity to the music, but the performance ensures that we are captured by the drama.

The whole cast are in their various ways admirable, though Alessandrini does seem to be fond of highly characterful voices and both Gianpaolo Fagotto as Arcetro and Antonio Abete as Plutone have a combination of vibrato and edge which is expressive but which might not be to everyone's taste. Furio Zanasi makes a highly expressive, baritone, Orfeo with a superb long solo moment as the character enters Hades. Sara Mingardo makes a very strong impression both as Dafne, who announces Euridice's death and Prosepina who persuades Pluton to allow Orfeo to take Euridice.

Alessandrini's ensemble includes five theorbos, but he wisely does not try to over colour the accompaniment and the results are, I think, stronger for allowing Caccini's slightly austere vision to speak.

This is a remarkably compact opera, it fits onto one CD. Alessandrini provides an interesting article in the CD booklet and there is full text and translations.

I don't think that this would be a work that I listen to regularly, but it is an important and fascinating piece of operatic history. On this recording, Alessandrini and his cast show that the work is more than an historical curiosity in a performance which brings the drama vividly alive.

Giulio Caccini (1551 - 1618) - Euridice (1600) [70.00]
Euridice & La Tragedia - Silvia Frigato (soprano)
Orfeo - Furio Zanasi (baritone)
Arcetro - Gianpaolo Fagotto (tenor)
Tirsi & Aminta - Luca Dordolo (tenor)
Dafne & Proserpina - Sara Mingardo (contralto)
Venere - Minca Piccinini (soprano)
Plutone - Antonio Abete (bass)
Radamanto - Matteo Bellotto (bass)
Caronte - Mauro Borgioni (baritone)
Concerto Italiano
Rinaldo Alessandrini (harpsichord, organ & conductor)
Recorded live August 2013, Innsbrucker Festwochen der alten Musik
naive OP30552 1 CD  [70.00]

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