Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in patria
Ulysses's long voyage and Penelope's patience subtly scored by Monteverdi, opera's founding master
E. Haïm © M. Rosensthiel
M. Clément © E. Haberer
Approximate running time 2h50
Sung in Italian with French subtitles
Only three complete lyric works by Monteverdi, the "historic " founder of musical theatre and hence opera, have come down to us today. And yet, these three works alone provided the fertile material from which he developed the most accomplished forms of his art, where he explored language and forms of musical expression throughout his life.
The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland is the composer's second opera after Orfeo, the favola in musica considered to be the first ever opera. With Ulysses, we leave the fable behind for myth: the myth of the end of Ulysses' voyage and his return to his faithful wife. Here, gods mingle with men and tragedy alternates with tender emotion and comedy. The libretto contains an infinite variety of themes that are at once timeless and profoundly human: fate, wandering, loneliness, faithfulness, temptation, freedom... and all open up the possibility of a multitude of dramatic treatments. Musically, the madrigal's heritage is evident in the richness of the ensemble pieces, but more elaborate forms are already appearing, especially in the handling of the recitar cantando and the orchestral ritornellos with their sublime sensuality and polychromy.
To pay justice to the dramatic and expressive richness and the perfect fusion between music and theatre, the work requires its scenic representation to strike a subtle balance between drama and comedy. No doubt Mariame Clément will be able to give a distinctive shape to this dual theatrical reading, drawing on her knowledge of literary matter and her taste for the plastic arts (she studied arts and art history at the Ecole Normale Supérieure). As for conductor Emmanuelle Haïm, her sense of detail and colour should work wonders in this musical art, which, though so subtle, demands a very colourful vitality and expressiveness - which she has in abundance. Lastly, a team of high-level performers has been brought together here to serve this masterpiece. Rolando Villazón's Ulysses, which we have no trouble picturing as a courageous conqueror, opposite Magdalena Kožená's Penelope, full of sweetness and inner strength. And around them, young singers experienced in singing Monteverdi and among the most promising performers of their generation.
After his years of wandering, Ulysses has only good reasons here to return to Penelope.