This startling new recording presents a modern form of pasticcio or, as countertenor and project originator Philippe Jaroussky says, a work that was “conceived as a kind of opera in miniature or as a cantata for two solo voices and chorus.” It also reminds us there were other fine operas on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice written after Striggio and Monteverdi’s famous favola in musica. (As there were, of course, before it, such as Rinuccini and Peri’s 1600 L’Euridice.
Here again we have the tragic and all-too-familiar story of Orpheus’s doomed attempt to rescue his beloved Eurydice, who had perished after being bitten by a serpent, from Hades’ realm. But by stitching together elements of three operas written decades apart – Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo (1607), Luigi Rossi’s Orfeo (1647) and Antonio Sartorio’s L’Orfeo (1672) – we are introduced not just to bracing chiaroscuro effects that serve to heighten the drama; such anachronisms also demonstrate the changing styles of, and tastes in, music over nearly 70 years of the Baroque period.
This was clearly a labour of love for Jaroussky (Orpheus). And what a fine thing to get such collaborators as Hungarian soprano Emöke Baráth (Eurydice), I Barocchisti, Coro della Radiotelevisione Svizzera and director Diego Fasolis on board as well. The instrumental playing in the opening Sinfonia by Sartorio sets the tone for the rest of the recording: by turns dignified and playful, densely textured and rhythmically nimble, strongly delineated and lightly embellished.As does the following duet between Orpheus and Eurydice.
Sartorio’s Cara e amabile catena heralds the kind of singing we can expect from our two protagonists throughout: as responsive to every syllable of the text as to each other while luxuriating indulgently in the more ornate musical passages.
In like fashion the next track again, Monteverdi’s Vieni, Imeneo… Lasciate I monti introduces us to the luminous sonority of the choir, whose numbers are, as in Rossi’s madrigalian Ah, piangete!, sometimes reduced to just four soloists, with remarkable effect.
But the undoubted highlight of the recording comes, as might be expected, further on with Monteverdi’s famous Possente spirto, in which a very humanist Orpheus avails himself of the Florentine school’s cantar passaggiato style. Jaroussky is more than equal to the task, the beauty and flexibility of his voice combining to dispatch every dramatic utterance and florid embellishment with the strange kind of agonised elegance one often finds in Renaissance depictions of Christ. Which is appropriate, given the Renaissance humanists’ conflation of Orpheus with Jesus.