Thursday 17 September 2015

Monteverdi's Il Ritorno di Ulisse

Barbara Kozeli
Barbara Kozelj
The Academy of Ancient Music and Richard Egarr finish their three-year cycle of semi-staged Monteverdi operas with Il ritorno di Ulisse in Patria which they perform on 29 September 2015 at the Barbican Hall. Ian Bostridge plays Ulisse, returning to his homeland and the constancy of his wife Penelope, played by the Slovenian mezzo-soprano Barbara Kozelj, with Elizabeth Watts as Minerva and Andrew Tortise as Ulisse's son Telemaco. Richard Egarr directs from the harpsichord, and the staging is co-directed by Alexander Oliver (who plays Iro) and Timothy Nelson.

Il ritorno di Ulisse in Patria premiered in Venice during the Carnival season of 1639-1640 and is the first of a group of operas which Monteverdi (then musical director at St Mark's) wrote for the Venetian opera houses. The theatre had been built in 1638 so an opera by Monteverdi (72 when it was premiered) was clearly quite a coup. The work survives in an apparently incomplete manuscript which differs from the surviving libretto, but scholars are agreed that Monteverdi was the composer though others may have had a hand in some scenes.

The opera is a far cry from his early masterpiece, L'Orfeo (written for the court of Mantua in 1607), the works written for Venice use relatively compact orchestral forces (dictated by the commercial pressures of the Venetian theatre) and have the mixture of serious and comic scenes which was highly popular with the Venetian audiences, so Monteverdi contrasts the scenes for Penelope and Ulisse with the riotous behaviour of Penelope's suitors.

There is a performances at the Enescu Festival in Bucharest on 18 September before the performance at the Barbican (tickets from the Barbican website).

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