28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant 'n Beautiful,
This review is from: Landi: Sant' Alessio [DVD]  (DVD)
Rarely have I waited so anxiously the arrival of any opera on DVD. Through the wonders of technology I watched this performance performance from the Théātre de Caen live from my home in Portland, Maine.
Beginning with an absolutely gorgeous Sinfonia and flowing through three powerful, entertaining thought provoking and often moving acts, I can't imagine this opera not capturing both the attention and heart of baroque music lovers and opera fans, at least some opera fans!).
I have been a fan of Philippe Jaroussky since his bursting onto the baroque scene a few years ago, yet somehow this was my first opportunity to experience him in a complete role. Sold. We're seeing a differentiation between male treble singers these days: For instance in comparing the sound of David Daniels to Jaroussky, I would think Daniels to be something akin to a "heldencountertenor" - while Jaroussky's is naturally higher lying, with a more feminine and sweeter presence to it. In this very authentic looking stylized era (and Noh) inspired production, young Mr. Jaroussky's movements, facial expressions, and voice all coalesce into a powerful, genuinely moving portrayal of Alessio. I was particularly touched by the big Act I scene "under the stairs" of his father's home. Watching Jaroussky's arm movements one can't help draw the conclusion he'd watched a lot of Kathleen Battle and Maria Callas videos for he has the business down quite effectively. Some may find it artificial but "art" is part of "artificial, and I, for one, loved it.
Musically, one needs hear only a little bit of his music to realize Landi - was a contemporary of Monteverdi. I have to wonder, therefore, was the older composer (Monteverdi) familiar with Landi's "Alessio" as the scene between Ulisse and his son Telemaco bears a strong musical and dramatic parallel to Landi's scene between Alessio and his father, Euphemianus, composed at least ten years before Ulisse.
In the aforementioned scene Alain Buet's as Euphemianus is vocally a tad on the dry side, yet through phrasing and mastery of the style brings a formidable, strong reading and characterization.
The brilliance of Landi's creation (aside from the mouthwateringly beautiful score) is his pacing of dramatic scenes. The aforementioned scene of Alessio's "revelation" - a moving, deep contemplation/epiphany of being earthbound while desirous of heavenly flight, is immediately followed by two vain dandy-ish characters of the commedia del' arte type. They deliver a bawdy, delightful ditty about the joys of sloth-like behaviour moving on to torment the poor, dour Alessio. At one point they even sing nonsense syllables in such a happy refrain that I nearly joined in.
It was fascinating to experience an all male opera that isn't Billy Budd - especially one that has the then traditional gender-bending spectacle of males singing the parts of women. While I've seen this "experiment" in Shakespearean theatre, I've never seen "serious" operatic roles done in this manner, usually falling more into the Arnalta ("Poppea") type of slapstick "I'm a big man playin' a lady" played with a rather broad (pardon the pun) humor. There is an ensemble with the ladies in Alessio's life: wife, mother and nurse that is one of the most beautiful "stand out" moments of the entire opera. I rewound and played that number, again, shaking my head at the sheer beauty,
the depth of emotion with which Landi infused this moment. Additionally, their voices fuse gloriously - with an odd matching up of virbratos which has a power all its own. .
Landi gives the chorus glorious music and Christy's "minstrels" launch into it with a sense of elation and joy. The choral music is unique here in this style of music and at one point reminded me of Peter Grimes, Turandot or Porgy and Bess, so important and integral are they to the goings on. I loved the madrigal-like aspect of some of the writing for them, the raucous circus/carnival act ending dance (beautifully sans voices) as the stage is flooded in a riotous eruption of joyous emotion.
William Christie and his band give a predictably brilliant and buoyant reading of the score, elegant when necessary and "down and dirty" in its bawdier moments. Benjamin Lazar's actual-era inspired physical production matched the musical qualities of the opera note-for-note, right down to having the set lit by candles - a very warming and welcoming touch.
How wonderful to be living in these often depressing times, and witness the rediscovery of brilliant works of art! I am ever grateful for the work Bill Christie is doing to unearth, promote and help revitalize our musical culture.
Bravo to everyone involved in this very special project and I hope it inspires more audiences, more musicians, and more good will - this DVD should prove as good a starting point as any! Bravissimo!