34 of 34 people found the following review helpful
This wonderful box contains all three remaining Monteverdi operas from groundbreaking performances between 1978-1980 in productions by Ponnelle.
Nikolaus Harnoncourt's orchestrations for period instruments melding with Ponnelle's baroque stage sets and costumes are the major factors bringing operas from four hundred years ago back to vibrant life.
L'Orfeo (composed 1607) - the earliest of the three Monteverdi is still very much opera in a stage of transition, and for me it has more the characteristics of a Masque than a fully fledged opera.
Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (composed 1641) - Monteverdi was 74 years old when he wrote "Ulisse" and still at the height of his powers. The libretto is undoubtedly somewhat slow and stately, and it is certainly long with at times an uncomfortable clash of comedy and tragedy. However in Ponnelle's words "it was the finest collaboration of my entire life with a conductor" and that says it all.
L'Incoronazione di Poppea (composed 1642) - The 75 year old Monteverdi made a foray into an erotic portrayal of Nero's obsession with Poppea and robust Roman treachery and lust. Poppea is the first modern opera portraying real life characters instead of mythological figures, and represents an extraordinary creative leap in the development of opera. A lively and animated performance that does not pull any punches.
Conclusion - These are timeless performances with fine dedicated singing, acting and orchestral playing. Fortunately as the operas were filmed in a studio with superb image and sound quality, this box is an absolute must have.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 27 February 2011
This trio of operas are a real feast for eye and ear. The staging and costume are sumptious (no stark, money-saving modernism here) and full of sly little jokes - everytime I watch it I see something new to enjoy. The singers are suberb and (more unusually) can act too and look good for their parts.
The use of Countertenors (often replaced by Tenors by less daring producers) gives the piece an historically authentic feel making it easy to imagine a 17th Century audience from all walks of society, settling down to be entertained. And Monteverdi was a true observer of real people. His operas have nothing like the artificial feel of Purcell or Handel. They could be set in any century.
The whole trio of operas are a pleasure but there is no doubt that the jewel in the crown is L'Incoronazione, a sensuous, bawdy yet very human piece about a debauched Nero (Eric Tappy) and his relationship with the courtesan Poppea (Rachel Yakar). Throw in Poppea's languishing ex-lover Otho (Countertenor Paul Esswood)and Drusilla, who loves Otho (the beautiful Janet Perry) and just for good measure, Alexander Oliver making a hilarious 'Dame' as Poppea's nurse. Now stir in the wronged, tragic queen Ottavia (Trudeliese Schmidt) and you will see why this is irresistable. The above group are part of the wonderful team who also star in the other 2 operas so quality is assured.
With this trio of operas, it is as if the producer was constantly asking 'How can we make this even better'. I strongly recommend it.
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 20 July 2010
This is an excellent set for very good value. The authentic production and performances sparkle with life. The staging is very true to the original idea, but not stuffy and not without a sense of humour throughout. The tragic scenes are also treated with a great sense of profundity. One of the interesting things is the way the instumentalists are often integrated into the drama with the singers to great effect. An exciting version of some of the earliest operas in the repertoir.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 26 August 2011
I have several DVDs of each of these operas. This set of all three is not just oustanding value but also the most watchable. (Interestingly another one I couldn't live without is the later Ulisse also by Harnoncourt.)
The music was recorded first and the video apparently recorded in a studio with a mock orchestra pit and even a mock-audience at times. The same small "stage" is used for all these very different operas - ballustrated walls curve to large central doors at the back. This works pretty well with the light stage dressing.
The director has taken pains to shoot many close ups from different angles. These were obviously recorded separately and often with little attempt at continuity. This seems more true of Orfeo than Poppea - perhaps they filmed in chronological sequence and ran out of time and money at the end. Watching opera on DVD can be as engaging as sitting in a theatre far from the stage looking though a telescope. But here the studio filming makes you feel part of the action. You soon forget it's from the 1970's in narrow 3:4 format with VHS-quality video!
There a lots of great touches - the nutty lutenist leaving the orchestra pit to dance around the stage, the shaggy dog in Ulisse which matches the shaggy shepherd, the smug Cupid in Poppea.
Poppea is quite long. The DVD by Talens Lyriques runs to 219 minutes and has music I had never heard before, albeit in a slighty hairshirt interpretation which sadly underplays the more sonorous music. This one is 162 minutes which seems around average. So different performances choose to include and omit different scenes. This Harnoncourt edition seems to get the balance about right, including for example the lighthearted lover's scene immediately after the death of Seneca which is sometimes omitted. No composer defines characters in the notes better than Monteverdi and these little vignettes of ordinary people (like the soldier duet at the beginning, brilliant here) prevent if from assuming an overwhelming gravity which was wasn't intended by the librettist or composer.
All-in-all a must-have set.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This box set of Monteverdi's three operas is a real gem of a buy. I've enjoyed every minute of watching all of them. Since Monteverdi was around 66 when he died in 1643, it means that these works belong to the first half of the Seventeenth Century, and it's interesting to note that, although these operas are based on Greek myths and legends, the costumes adopted are those of Monteverdi's day and age. This means that adopting costumes relevant to the day and age in which a work is being performed is not a new idea.
The traditional; kind of staging adopted appeals to me greatly, not least because it is designed in such a way so as to inspire the imagination. My contention is that over-staging can so easily cause the viewer's imagination to malfunction. Monteverdi was one of the first operatic composers to realise the art of capturing the imagination of the viewer-listener through appropriately styled music and singing related to every nuance of an established tale. There are quite a number of operas, even by some of the best known composers, that fail in this respect; but Monteverdi never does. Like everything else operatic art evolves and cannot stand still. However, it sometimes evolves along a backwater where it's prone to die out, whereas Monteverdi's operas have remained in the mainstream without needing to evolve very much except that anything can always be adapted and improved in variety of ways.
The Coronation of Poppea (L'Incoronazione di Poppea) is in the way of being a cautionary tale about how easy it is for women to become the playthings of men, especially powerful men, and also about how easy it is for such men to cast aside their wives when they tire of them. Trudeliese Schmidt with her deep, rich voice, is ideal for singing the role of the discarded Empress Ottavia. It's also intriguing how Fortune, Virtue and Love (Cupid) are personified, enabling the viewer-listener to form a clear cut vision of how these attributes and emotions actually function in the interplay between human beings. In the end, as Nero and Poppea are left alone together, we are left with the distinct impression that no one really cares anything about them. 'You both got what you wanted; so what?' Only a truly great opera could achieve this message in such an impressive and thought-provoking fashion.
Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria is masterpiece, beautifully presented and sung. Trudeliese Schmidt is the quintessential Penelope with her beautiful contralto voice ideal for expressing the strain she is under from the long wait for her husband Ulysses' return. Werner Hollweg is equally good as Ulysses and I would say the whole cast give a virtually faultless performance. My one gripe is that the live dog that takes part in the performance should have been acknowledged in the cast list. If he/she is good enough to be lugged around on stage, he/she is good enough to be worthy of mention. All told, this is an inspiring production and I loved every minute of it.
L'Orfeo is equally well performed and presented with the true poignancy of the Greek legend being brought out at every turn. It's a sorry tale illustrating how extremely difficult it is not to avoid doing the very thing one is told never to do. It's what I call 'a mouse under the cheese cover' tale. A rich man once befriended a poor man and woman telling them they could dine from his table once a day so long as they never looked under the cover of a dish placed in the centre of the table. Their curiosity eventually overcoming them, they lifted the lid and a mouse jumped out.
This is a great trio and I'm so pleased I bought it so as I can now enjoy all three works over and over again.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 24 August 2012
I've little to add to the other very acute and accurate reviews. It's a glorious piece of work, has aged not at all, and is the best way into Monteverdi's three operas. One thing I'd add - especially for people experiencing these works for the first time: start with 'Poppea', proceed to 'Il Ritorno D'Ulisse' and finish with 'L'Orpheo'. I saw 'Poppea' on a video in 1981 (I think it was the first video I'd ever seen) and bought this set just for 'Poppea'. Everything about it pleases. The flow of glorious melody, the quality of singers (and their 'looks'), the magical theatrical effects... I could go on and on. Watch for the 'angry sea' in 'Il Ritorno' - achieved with three rollers you could make on the kitchen table a la 'Blue Peter' but magical in a way that computer graphics just cannot manage. A feast! You'll want to keep this set carefully - don't lend it out! And great to know (and consoling for me) that such magic all flowed from the head and heart of an elderly gent. It's a masterful piece of work by everyone involved.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 28 June 2012
I endorse all of the praise heaped on these performances by the previous reviewers. I saw these productions when they were performed in the Edinburgh Festival many years ago. They were thrilling then and remain so on the DVDs. The cast, performances and filming are all well-nigh perfect with the camera seemingly roaming around the stage and showing intimate close-ups as appropriate. A must-have set.
on 24 June 2014
I knew Monteverdi's madrigals and sacred music, but I did not know his operas except through snippets heard on the radio, so these dvds were a revelation. The astonishing thing is that these operas, the very first to be composed, bear all the hallmarks of an art form at the very height of its development, and these lavish productions and brilliant performances make the most of the complex and sophisticated material they provide, taking them, particularly the Poppea, straight into my top ten favourites.
on 27 May 2014
Truly remarkable opera when viewed against its era. Casts all round good performers. Very different from what many opera fans are used to but still excellent entertainment.
9 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 16 February 2009
Monteverdi boxed set of three was the best money I have spent for a long time and has given me so much pleasure