Daniel Stepner

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo

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This recording of Orfeo by performers from the Massachusetts-based Aston Magna Festival has many things to recommend it. Primary among its virtues is the dramatic urgency of the performance. The protagonist's dilemma is presented with heartbreaking poignancy; characteristic is the intensity of the Messenger's announcement of the news of Eurydice's death, which is delivered and received with stricken anguish. The singers are consistently fine -- there are no weak links in the cast. Frank Kelley's Orfeo is sweet-toned and persuasive, even though his coloratura in parts of "Possente spirto" is a little tentative. Soprano Laurie Monahan makes an especially strong impression, as do Roberta Anderson, Deborah Rentz-Moore, Sharon Baker, David Ripley, and Robert Honeysucker. Daniel Stepner leads the ensemble in a colorful and well-paced performance, and the variety of accompaniments for the recitatives is especially inventive. The ornamentation throughout is lively and appropriate. The recording's weaknesses lie in its details. For example, the echoing instruments sometimes don't convincingly replicate the pacing and articulation of the phrases they should be echoing. Intonation is a problem often enough to be distracting, particularly with the recorders. But it is generally good enough that one has the impression that given the luxury of a few more takes, the performers could have nailed the pitches and made this a truly outstanding version of the opera. The sound is generally good, but the bass is a little heavy.

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