Boston Baroque / Martin Pearlman

Claudio Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria

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Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria (The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland) is undoubtedly the least-known of the three surviving operas of Claudio Monteverdi, and its authenticity was long doubted. Composed in 1639, it has been called the first modern opera; it shows signs of the differentiation into recitative, arioso, and aria that would come into full bloom with Monteverdi's late masterpiece, L'incoronazione di Poppea. The opera travels the dramatically fertile ground of Ulysses' return home after his Odyssey, only to find Penelope being hit on to the max by the local male population. The libretto by one Giacomo Badoara constructed a variety of plausible plot devices around the story, and Monteverdi responded with musical characterizations that gather strength as the opera proceeds even if there is no show-stopper number here as there are in Poppea and Orfeo. The opera has come down with no real indication of orchestration, and that provided by the Boston Baroque and music director Martin Pearlman is pretty sparse despite the presence of a huge theorbo. A photo in the booklet, which includes the complete libretto in Italian and English, shows what the mood of this Boston production must have been like in person, and one feels of the singers, especially Jennifer Rivera as Penelope, that they probably put the drama across in live performance. The average listener may find the recording a bit dry with no visual cues, but there is not an abundance of recordings of this transitional work in the Monteverdi canon, and it's entirely competent.

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