Monday, May 1, 2017

Happy Birthday, Claudio Monteverdi!

Claudio Monteverdi. c. 1630
We have a very important composer anniversary this month - the 450th anniversary of the birth of Claudio Monteverdi (May 9. 1567), and so I present the first complete recording of his first opera, "L'Orfeo" (1607). This may not be the first opera ever written - that honor goes to "Dafne" by Jacopo Peri (now lost) - but it is the first acknowledged masterpiece in the new genre.  It is also the earliest opera to be in the standard repertoire, although that was probably not the case in 1939, the year this recording was made:

Monteverdi: L'Orfeo - Favola in Musica
Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra under the direction of Ferruccio Calusio
Recorded December, 1939
Musiche Italiane Antiche 014 through 025, twelve 78-rpm records
Link (FLAC files, 282.17 MB)
Link (MP3 files, 174.67 MB)

And how does this recording stack up today, in the wake of over three-quarters of a century of a performance tradition of this music? Quite well, in my opinion. The producers of this set took pains to ensure that the sound of Monteverdi's orchestra was reproduced faithfully, within the confines of what was possible at the time. True, most of the instruments are modern, and the singers are all of the Verdi-Puccini operatic tradition. But the singing - led by Enrico de Franceschi in the title role - is never less than beautiful, and, in the case of Albino Marone (singing the dual parts of Caronte and Plutone), full of character. The string playing is a little lackluster, perhaps, but the continuo work is all excellent, particularly that of Corradina Mora on her Pleyel harpsichord. The whole performance was obviously a labor of love for all involved. One can imagine them glorying in the positive aspects of their Italian heritage at a time when the world was falling apart around them.

Incidentally, at the Library of Congress' "National Jukebox", it is possible to sample what are probably the earliest recordings ever made of Monteverdi's music - two excerpts from "L'Orfeo" as sung by Reinald Werrenrath and accompanied by the usual Victor studio orchestra, recorded in 1914 for the company's educational series.


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  2. Talk about a labour of love... Thank you, as ever! All the best, Nick

    1. This really is wonderful, and an ideal transfer - thank you again! Best wishes, Nick