What was the first opera? The question is difficult to answer, for the form emerged out of the combination of the intermedi, a short dramatic form presented at royal weddings and the like, with a group of experiments in re-creating the declamation of ancient Greek drama. These coalesced into larger-scale pieces around 1600. One of them, L'Euridice, shared its story with the first acknowledged operatic masterpiece, Monteverdi's Orfeo, and was performed at the wedding of Maria de' Medici and Henri IV of France. The earlier operas have mostly been the province of scholars who have tried to reassemble L'Euridice from the contributions of various composers. The version here, drawn from one published by one of the composers, Giulio Caccini, makes a reasonably good case for the work, maintaining its dramatic coherence and working in a good deal of effective melodic material among the recitatives. But most effective of all in bringing the work to life is the presence of top-notch Baroque vocalists: Silvia Frigato in the title role and the inimitable Sara Mingardo as Dafne. How this music was accompanied remains under debate -- it was notated only on a pair of staves -- but conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini and his Concerto Italiano keep things sparse. Given the luxurious surroundings in which the music was first performed, one could certainly imagine a larger group, but Alessandrini keeps the focus on the singers, and wonderful singers they are. L'Euridice remains of most interest to lovers of the early Baroque, but it certainly receives its first real high-powered performance here.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim