Thursday, April 30, 2015
John Eliot Gardiner Conducts Monteverdi's "L'Orfeo"
The British, 72-year-old early music pioneer, John Eliot Gardiner above, is touring the United States with his Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists ensembles, and San Francisco was one of the lucky cities chosen for a performance.
On Monday evening they transformed Davies Hall into what felt like an intimate Italian Renaissance palace through music alone, quite a feat in that modernist barn. The program was Monteverdi's first opera, the 1607 L'Orfeo, performed with original instruments and without intermission, a daunting program I feared might be deadly dull but which was quite the opposite.
For a lovely, detailed review of the musical performance, click here for Terence Shek's account at the Not For Fun Only blog.
The familiar tale spends its first half among happy nymphs and shepherds celebrating the love of Orfeo and Euridice, while the second half details Orfeo's sad journey to Hades to rescue his snakebit bride from the land of the dead, only to lose her when Love conquers Pluto's injunction to not look back. In this version, instead of being torn apart by the Bacchae who are not amused by his decision to forsake womankind for "youths," a deus ex machina in the form of Apollo arrives and tells Orfeo to stop moping and come to the land of the gods with him.
The orchestra was the best early music ensemble I have ever heard live, including the performer above who bounced from one antique keyboard instrument to another.
The singing was also superb, particularly Francesca Aspromonte above in a number of small roles, the bottomless bass Gianluca Buratto as both the Ferryman and Pluto in Hades, Mariana Flores as a lively, dancing Euridice, and Andrew Tortise as Orfeo. Tortise could have been more expressive during his long, lamenting arias but his tenor is pure enough that you could believe it would enchant both heaven and hell.