I am genuinely sorry to have to write harshly of this performance, as I have enjoyed Emanuelle Haim's previous outings on CD very much indeed, and admire the energy, flair and passion which she brings to her music making. Here, sadly, a combination of some poor singing and over-emphatic, seat-of-the-pants, white-knuckle-ride direction reduce Monteverdi's poised masterpiece to an emotional mess.
Poor singing? Not from Ian Bostridge, who sings with taste and discretion without ever suggesting full immersion in the period style - and his "emoting" on seemingly random words and phrases brings diminishing dramatic returns; or from Patricia Ciofi's cleanly delivered Eurydice. Alice Coote and Carolyn Sampson deserve honourable mention too for their contributions.
Most of the rest, however, are much too concerned to flex their admittedly impressive Verdian muscles to worry too much about how to sing *Monte*verdi! The tone is set by Natalie Dessay's screeching, showy and vulgar delivery of La Musica's beautiful opening stanzas. She does it as if she were auditioning for the mad scene from "Lucia di Lammermoor" and the effect is utterly horrid. And did that admirably virile baritone Christopher Maltman, to take one of a multitude of other sinners, not think that the words "soavi accenti" ('sweet strains') might deserve to be delivered sweetly and gently, rather than bellowed as if he were Scarpia in the last throws of bleeding to death?
Too much of the singing is overstated, overcooked and overprojected. The subtle classical emotions are delivered to us as "in your face" emotional outbursts from a gang of adolescent misfits. No wonder that when poor Alice Coote's Messenger arrives to announce Eurydice's death, that stark dagger of genuinely deep feeling, she has been left with absolutely nowhere to go emotionally, thanks to the rank self-indulgence of her pastoral colleagues. The chorus is even worse - big, imprecise and recorded as if in an echo chamber. The sprightly, vernal "Lasciate i monti" for example sounds rushed and slurred, more like an amateur rendition of a patter song from "Iolanthe", and goes for less than nothing.
And so the charmless, hectoring and desperate caravanserai rolls on. The Underworld Act is rather better, and Bostridge rises to vocal heights in his showpiece "Possente spirto", though without ever quite convincing us that he is singing to do anything very important, let alone to claim back his spouse from the King of the Dead. The final Thracian revels, however, return us to the steamy, overegged vocal and instrumental pudding of the first scenes.
You will gather that I most definitely think this is one to avoid, big time! If you prefer your Monteverdi to have a flavour of classical taste rather than neo-romantic neurosis, choose Rinaldo Alessandrini's musically subtle and verbally responsive version on Naïve instead. The Haim is a horror.