René Jacobs

Emilio de Cavalieri: Rappresentatione di Anima et di Corpo

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Emilio de Cavalieri's La rappresentatione di anima e di corpo (Representation of the Soul and of the Body), from the year 1600, has been called the first opera (including by Cavalieri himself) and the first oratorio. In reality, although it was part of the creative ferment that produced both genres in the early 17th century, it was neither. Something of an overgrown allegorical cantata, it was a historical dead end. The work is staged like an opera, and indeed this recording is based on a production at the Berlin Staatsoper. It was recorded, however, at Berlin's Teldex Studios, which is all to the good: the chief attraction of this recording lies in the instrumental ensemble realized by director René Jacobs. Starting with a group of "foundation instruments," later to be named the continuo, Jacobs' ensemble deploys no fewer than four harps and a battery of other low instruments including the unusual ceterone, a relative of the cittern and chitarrone. The upper "ornamental instruments" include a string ensemble, plus recorders, cornettos, three trombones, and percussion. The sound is rich and lush with contrasts, and Jacobs conveys something of how exciting the new sound must have been in 1600 when it emerged from the experimental circles in which it was created. The singers have less to work with. As the title suggests, the libretto is a rather talky discussion of spiritual and earthly life, with the action staged (the body approaches the various minor characters: Intellect, Time, Prudence, and so on). There are arias, recitatives, and choruses of a sort, but they're nowhere near Monteverdi's Orfeo in terms of being musically differentiated from each other. This is certainly a worthwhile investment for those interested in the first years of opera.

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