Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676) was a worthy successor to Monteverdi on the Venetian musical scene, and while his operas may not sustain the level of exalted musical inspiration and psychological depth of Monteverdi's, they come close enough to fully deserve the recognition they are beginning to receive. Like Monteverdi, Cavalli was a master dramatist, and his operas bristle with theatrical energy and vivid musical characterizations. L'Ormindo (1644), the first of his operas to be rediscovered (by Raymond Leppard, who conducted it at Glyndebourne in 1967), was written just two years after L'incoronazione di Poppea, and shares some of its attributes, most notably a remarkably expressive use of recitative, intriguing characters, and a dramatically arresting intermingling of comic and serious elements. The plot, unlike Monteverdi's clear and compact narrative, involves the complexity of mistaken identities, convoluted relationships, and improbable resolutions that would come to characterize later Baroque opera. The characters, however, are emotionally believable, for the most part, and are dramatically engaging, making it easier to overlook the absurdity of the plot.
L'Ormindo receives a splendid performance by the French ensemble Les Paladins, conducted by Jérôme Correas. Correas' flexibility allows the singers to deliver the recitatives with convincing naturalism, but he never lets the musical momentum sag. There's not a weak link among the large cast, all of whom negotiate the early Baroque idiom as if it were second nature, and with persuasive dramatic vigor. The singers sound like a tight comedic troupe, and their interactions have a wonderful spontaneity. Pan's acoustic is clean and resonant, with excellent, natural-sounding balance. The performance would make an excellent introduction to the neglected world of early Baroque opera, and to Cavalli's genius as a dramatic composer.