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Monteverdi and Flecha; Listening to music and texts


Monteverdi L'Orfeo; Zanasi/Piccinini/Simboli/Mingardo/
Concerto Italiano/Rinaldo Alessandrini

Naive CDs OP30439




Matteo Flecha
: El Fuego, La Justa, La Guerra, La Negrina
interspersed with Tiento (Correa de Arauxo); Por vida de mis ojos, En la fuente del Rosel & Conque la lavare? (Juan Vasquez); Tiento de batalla (Sebastian Aguilera de Heredia)

Ambroisie CD AM129 [both distributed in UK by New Note]

These unusual and admirable releases have prompted thoughts about presentation and listening. It would take a top early music specialist to question the received opinion that this is the finest account of L'Orfeo on disc.

We generally tend to enjoy opera better on DVD for the infinitely various creative interplay of composer (usually long dead) and contemporary opera directors, and Monteverdi has been well served; see our review of two fine filmings, in Barcelona and Amsterdam respectvely.

Alessandrini takes the palm (temporarily, it might be) for what many might think extraneous reasons, in this sumptuous CD production which follows Concerto Italiano's superb cycle of the Monteverdi madrigals and is listed as a Limited Edition.

Whether that limitation proves to be a reality or not, Alessandrini's L'Orfeo is unmissable however many versions you have. (It is already available from Amazon.UK, priced upwards of a bargain £16)

Idiomatic performances by fine native Italian singers give it a cachet, and they include my current favourite contralto, Sara Mingardo, responsible for delivering the fatal message of Euridice's death, and one of Hope at the end. In the great lament Possente Spirto, Furio Zanasi is heart-breaking as the bereft Orfeo.

But it is the physical pleasure of handling the book that I want to celebrate here; also the delights of listening to Orfeo, in a train to Wales and in a hotel on the Gower Peninsula on iPod with the book in front of me, that will make for an indelible memory. I shall hear it again on hi-fi equipment (not SACD, which I gather has had poor sales take-up) but the quality of iPod leaves little to be desired; maybe I am not the only reviewer to listen on the move?

What is so special? Having taken an interest in CD presentation which falls far short of what can reasonably be expected (q.v. ARTICLES CD Insert Booklets & CD booklets and Concert programmes - Who are they for?) it is a pleasure to celebrate perfection for once. This lavish artefact is hard-covered and properly stitched, with articles by Camille Laurens that provide all the background you could want for Alessandrini's edition (transcribed from Amadino 1609), copious colour illustrations, and parallel translations of the Italian text into Engish and French (why not German too, in the empty halves of one the libretti pages?) in clear black on glossy white.

It is the parallel translations which set me thinking. At Wigmore Hall, and often at South Bank, texts are provided with translations, but it is interesting to see how high a proportion of audiences don't look at them - if there is enough light to read them (q.v. ARTICLE Inside Monteverdi; Let there be light!).

On DVDs one has usually subtitles in a generous choice of languages. But the workaday translations can be rather crude and uninspiring.

Here, however (and in the other CD to be discussed more briefly below) one has the best of all worlds; the beautiful evocative Italian of Striggio's libretto, and across to the opposite page Mary Pardoe's English version to keep you on track. This makes for active listening, free from prescribed scenarios by the new breed of Opera Directors (Deflo & Audi in those cited above).

Mateo Flesha the elder
(1481-1553) deserves to be far better known for his vastly entertaining ensaladas. These are a genre midway between art and folk music, with polyglot texts in a mixture of languages and dialects , telling a mixture of stories generally based around the Nativity, with comic onomatopoeic effects enjoyed by singers and listeners alike.

Ambroise, one of the more enterprising of French record companies, offers a good selection of the best of them in the new CD from Les Sacqueboutiers, with expert singers accompanied by superlative exponents of early wind instruments. The best of them are El Fuego and La Justa, running to some 14 breathless minutes each and covering three or four closely printed parallel pages. The fun is multiplied by following the texts in Spanish and your own language; not easy with the hectic pacing of the narratives. Another fully documented and worthily presented disc, a nice contrasting relief after the intense pathos of the Monteverdi.

Treat yourself to both these admirable productions with the promise of a dual treat.

Peter Grahame Woolf

P.S. An after thought. With the constant advances of technology, and thinking of the split-screen treatment of a recent Zurich Aida (the film director Sommer taking his cue from old films) and the choices of view in some DVDs (e.g. Ambroisie interactive Beethoven concertos), might it be possible now to offer DVD sub-titles for opera enthusiasts with the choice of one or TWO languages (i.e. the original as performed plus one's own) - even if that would encroach slightly upon screen shape? PGW

- - an opera in which music and text have equal importance - - one of the finest new releases of the year so far, the version of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo to acquire for any collection [Andrew Clements, The Guardian]