Monteverdi composed three landmark operas that have become the subject of great interest: L'Orfeo; Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria; and L'incoronazione di Poppea. With the rise of the early music movement, these operas have been recorded in "historically informed" performances. While vital, these recordings simultaneously overshadow earlier performances that helped spark interest in this movement in the first place.
Over three weeks, Saturday Night At The Opera will be exploring each of these operas in alternative performances that shatter any conception of orthodoxies we might have about the way Monteverdi and the early Baroque should be performed. These editions do not reflect the restoration of Monteverdi's sonic world so much as the interpretations of his works by some of the twentieth century's most important composers.
September 5th: L'Orfeo. Today, Carl Orff is best remembered for his Carmina Burana, yet he was fascinated by Greek theater and mythology. Throughout the early twentieth century, Orff constantly revised Monteverdi's opera on Orpheus and Euridice. The final product is a three-act version in German that features a spoken introduction. Orff's adaptation received an illustrious premiere in Dresden with Karl Böhm conducting and would be performed frequently in German-speaking countries over the following decades. In this particular broadcast, Hermann Prey and Lucia Popp are the doomed lovers, and Karl Eichhorn conducts the Munich Radio Orchestra.
September 12th: L'incoronazione di Poppea. In an unusual repertory choice, the Vienna State Opera decided to mount its first ever production of Monteverdi's tale of power and corruption in 1963. At the last minute, Herbert von Karajan, the company's then artistic director, stepped in to conduct a cast that featured Vienna's top ensemble members: Sena Jurinac; Gerhard Stolze; and Gundula Janowitz star in Erich Kraak's lush symphonic arrangement. The resulting recording moulds Poppea into a grand opera of the first degree.
September 19: Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria. Monteverdi's adaptation of the final books of Homer's epic Odyssey has often been considered his problem child; however, the opera simultaneously contains perhaps Monteverdi's most moving score. At the time that Hans Werner Henze's edition of the opera premiered at the Salzburg Festival in 1985, the early music movement had just begun to make major strides, thanks to the work of conductors such as Nikolaus Harnoncourt (who himself had just premiered his own edition in Zurich before the Salzburg performances) and John Eliot Gardiner. Henze expands the original five-part score to embrace a wide variety of colors and instrumentation, including the celesta. Jeffrey Tate conducts a magnetic performance of this elusive score, with Thomas Allen and Kathleen Kuhlmann delivering magnetic performances.
Stepan Atamian hosts.