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Giulio CACCINI (1551 - 1618): L'Euridice

Silvia Frigato (Euridice, La Tragedia), Monica Piccinini (Venere), soprano; Sara Mingardo (Dafne, Proserpina), contralto; Luca Dordolo (Tirsi, Aminta), Gianpaolo Fagotto (Arcetro), tenor; Mauro Borgioni (Caronte), Furio Zanasi (Orfeo), baritone; Antonio Abete (Plutone), Matteo Bellotto (Radamanto), bass; Monica Piccinini, Anna Simboli (Ninfe), Matteo Bellotto, Mauro Borgioni, Raffaele Giordani, Marco Scavazza (Pastori e Spiriti)
Concerto Italiano
Dir: Rinaldo Alessandrini

rec: August 2013 (live), Innsbruck, Landestheater
Nave - OP 30552 ( 2013) (79'22")
Liner-notes: E/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Francisco Montero, lirone, viola da gamba; Ugo di Giovanni, Craig Marchitelli, Franco Pavan, theorbo; Mara Galassi, Loredana Gintoli, harp; Francesco Moi, harpsichord, regals; Rinaldo Alessandrini, harpsichord, organ

This disc brings us to the birth of opera: L'Euridice by Giulio Caccini was printed in 1600, the first publication of an opera score. The roots of opera are to be found in the Middle Ages. In church liturgical plays were performed, especially about the birth of Jesus and his resurrection. Their counterparts were plays in the vernacular, often so-called 'morality plays'. An early baroque specimen of this genre is the Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo by Emilio de' Cavalieri. As far as the origins of opera are concerned, one could go back even further: since the emergence of Humanism artists, poets and musicians came under the spell of ancient Greek culture. Part of that was Greek tragedy which was performed by actors who delivered a text in a mixture of speech and song. This was then propagated as the ideal by Giulio Caccini; he called it recitar cantando.

His L'Euridice was the first opera to be printed, but not the first to be performed. In October 1600 Henri IV, King of Navarre and France, married Maria de' Medici in Florence. On 6 October the fable L'Euridice, on a text by Ottavio Rinuccini and with music by Jacopo Peri, was performed. Caccini contributed to this work, and his daughters and some pupils took part in the performance. It seems that Caccini wanted to publish his own complete setting first. It gave him the chance to claim to be the very first to compose music for solo voice. Caccini even insisted that some of his compositions in this manner were written about fifteen years earlier. The relationship between Caccini and Peri is unclear but it seems that there was a certain amount of antagonism between them.

The story of Orpheus and Euridice was quite popular, and had been the subject of theatrical music before this. However, it is no coincidence that it was chosen by three composers: Caccini, Peri and Monteverdi. It was not just a good story; it was also programmatic. The myth of Orpheus and Euridice was a metaphor for the marriage of poetry and music. Orpheus's singing serves his plea for Euridice being returned to him. It is music which gives additional weight to his words. That was exactly what the role of music should be, according to Caccini.

Caccini's L'Euridice is divided into a prologue and six scenes. The singers represent a number of characters, sometimes more than one, and together sing the choruses. Considering the relatively small space where the first performance took place it seems plausible to assume that these choruses were sung by the soloists. There are no parts for instruments; the singers are supported by the basso continuo alone. This allows the singers to deliver the text to maximum effect. It also gives them the opportunity to treat the rhythm of the music with considerable freedom. Moreover, the singers were expected to add ornamentation in order to emphasize elements of the text. As the settings by Caccini and Peri were performed on the occasion of a wedding, they both have a happy end, unlike Monteverdi's L'Orfeo which was first performed in 1607. Notable are the narrative episodes: we hear about the fate of Euridice through an eye-witness account by Dafne, whereas Arcetro reports about Orpheus' reaction to the news of Euridice's death. Orpheus' role is more limited than in Monteverdi's setting.

This live recording is succesful in demonstrating the quality of Caccini's music and the strength of this style in communicating the story to the audience. The singing of the cast is a matter of hit and miss. Silvia Frigato sings the role of Euridice beautifully and also gives a good account of the part of La Tragedia in the prologue. Furio Zanasi truly masters the art of recitar cantando but I would have preferred a more 'open' voice and perhaps a younger singer. After all Orpheus is a young man. Gianpaolo Fagotto (Arcetro) has the perfect voice for this repertoire, and the ornamentation which is a feature of this style comes off immaculately, especially the trillo. However, he is not very sensitive to the text as his performance is too one-dimensional. In this respect Luca Dardolo makes a better impression in his performance of the role of Aminta. Sara Mingardo (Dafne, Proserpina) is another singer who is not unproblematic. She is not very convincing in her ornamentation and she rather overdoes the vibrato. Stylistically she is more at home in later repertoire. Monica Piccinini does well in the small role of Venere and Matteo Bellotto and Mauro Borgioni are convincing in the roles of Radamanto and Caronte respectively. Antonio Abete has the right voice for the part of Pluto, but he is not very pitch-steady.

This recording has to compete with a performance by Scherzi Musicali, directed by Nicolas Achten (Ricercar, 2008). That version is not perfect, but I slightly prefer it to this new recording under Alessandrini's direction. That is mainly due to the performances of some of the roles. Reinoud Van Mechelen is more sensitive than Gianpaolo Fagotto in the role of Arcetro. The role of Dafne is better off in the hands of the male alto Magid El-Bushra, especially considering the style of singing. However, this new recording has much to offer and is certainly a good proposition if you are looking for a performance of this relatively little-known masterpiece.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

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