Monteverdi: Il ritorno d’ulisse in patria / Gardiner, English Baroque Soloists

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Gramophone Magazine's DVD/Blu-ray of the Month - Awards Issue 2022

Claudio Monteverdi was a pioneer in the origins and development of opera, taking vocal music beyond Renaissance polyphony and entering a modern era in which genuine feelings and emotions are expressed through a wide variety of characters. Part of a late flowering in Monteverdi’s illustrious career, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria is considered the most tender and moving of his three surviving operas. It takes its narrative from the second half of Homer’s Odyssey, presenting Ulysses as a flawed hero; a lone wanderer who has to overcome cruel tests, terrible hardships, treachery and deception before he can be reunited with his faithful queen Penelope and recover his kingdom. Recorded in Venice’s historical Teatro La Fenice, this semi-staged production is part of John Eliot Gardiner’s acclaimed celebration of Monteverdi’s 450th anniversary, a true milestone in Western cultural history.


Gardiner and Rooke’s conception for Ulisse is simple, direct and subtle. Richardot captures Penelope’s loneliness and constrained emotions, her guarded conversations with the loathsome suitors and fury at Telemaco’s foolish praise of Helen of Troy’s beauty, and her struggle to trust that her husband has at long last returned. Furio Zanasi is a world-weary yet dignified Ulisse, humble during his meeting with Blažíková’s alert Minerva, and quietly confident during his homecoming trials. The naive lovers Melanto and Eurimaco are portrayed with delightful ease by Anna Dennis and Zachary Wilder. Francisco Fernández-Rueda’s faithful shepherd Eumete is sweetly articulate, and his antithesis Iro is acted with stinging bluntness by Robert Burt. The suitors are brought to life with distinctive personalities: Burrato’s Antinoo is the ringleader, a bullying menace capable of silver-tongued charm; Gareth Treseder’s Anfinomo is smarmy; Michał Czerniawski’s Pisandro is a wimp. The only props are Ulisse’s long shabby coat, and Iro’s bag of steak-flavor McCoys and large cup of Coca-Cola. A physical bow would have been useful at the end of Act 2, although Gardiner and Rooke’s solution is ingenious: Richardot’s tense Penelope is herself the unyielding bow; after the over-confident suitors fail to force her outstretched arms together, the disguised Ulisse stands behind her and his gentle embrace brings her hands over her heart (her shock is palpable).

-- Gramophone

The production is a semi-staging. There are no sets, but a stepped rear platform gives height, not least for scenes with the gods, while the rest of the action is at stage front. The orchestra is on stage, divided into two halves placed left and right of the conductor. His seated central position has space around him so the singers can move freely in and out, sometimes interacting directly with the instrumentalists. The drama responds very well to this approach.

There are no music stands, and no concert dress, of course: the singers move and act in costume. Costumes are mostly modern and formal, such as Penelope’s elegant burgundy-colored long dress. Ulisse’s garb, especially his worn overcoat, manages to suggest a dignified personage masquerading as a beggar, rather than actual poverty. Neptune and Jove are splendid in white tie, the former in smart blue suit, the latter in black. The suitors sport variously colored waistcoats with mandarin collars, and the shepherd Eumete wears a white smock.

The characters’ movement is convincing, dramatic when required, and close camera work catches it well. One has to make allowances, as for example in the very final moment. In a close-up, the faces of husband and wife converge for an embrace of recognition at last, but in our view separated by the back of the conductor’s head. There are no props, but one notices it only when Ulisse’s bow is needed for the suitors at the end of Act Two, and is replaced by some unconvincing mime. Overall, though, this considered and respectful presentation is most effective, and suits the work’s statuesque qualities, and yet does not impede its occasional comic ones.

The casting is exemplary, and the hand-picked team of sixteen solo singers is strong and consistent. The leading roles are very well taken, and performances honed to persuasive stage characterisation, presumably by thorough preparation and many performances. Lucile Richardot’s Penelope has dignity and passion; her rich contralto is well suited to both. Her long-absent and unrecognised husband Ulisse is Furio Zanasi, whose firm high baritone is distinctive enough to set him apart from those with whom he interacts. That includes the touching scenes with his son Telemaco, excellently sung by tenor Krystian Adam. But this applies all down a long cast list, and indeed to the superb Monteverdi Choir, whose few contributions are predictably fine. Heavenly indeed is their celestial spirits’ chorus “Giove amoroso” in Act Three.

-- MusicWeb Inteernational

Product Description:

  • Release Date: May 27, 2022

  • UPC: 809478013488

  • Catalog Number: OA 1348D

  • Label: Opus Arte

  • Number of Discs: 1

  • Period: Renaissance, Baroque

  • Composer: Claudio Monteverdi

  • Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Monteverdi Choir


  1. Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria, SV 325

    Composer: Claudio Monteverdi

    Ensemble: English Baroque Soloists, Monteverdi Choir

    Performer: Hana Blažíková (Soprano), Furio Zanasi (Baritone), Lucile Richardot (Mezzo Soprano), Michał Czerniawski (Countertenor), Gareth Treseder (Tenor), Gianluca Buratto (Bass)

    Conductor: John Eliot Gardiner