Il Pianto d'Orfeo: The Birth of Opera
Nicolas Achten has thoughtfully woven together extracts from various 17th-century music dramas on the myth of Orpheus, from the Florentine dawn of Peri and Caccini to the Venetian style of Sartorio 70 years later, via Monteverdi’s Mantuan masterpiece (1607) and Rossi’s opera for the French court (1648). The seamless narrative is organised into six subsections that follow the plot of the myth, connected together by instrumental pieces such as warmly played sinfonias by Rossi and music by Cavalieri. The sequence devoted to ‘The Loves of Orpheus and Eurydice’ presents a beguiling contrast of Orfeo and Euridice trading expressions of their profound love for each other: Monteverdi’s ‘Rosa del ciel’ (sung serenely by Achten) and Rossi’s seductive passacaglia ‘Mio ben, teco ’l tormento’ (sung exquisitely by Deborah York); it leads directly into a lightly sprung account of Monteverdi’s ‘Vi ricorda, o boschi ombrosi’.
The section entitled ‘Weep at my Lament’ is dominated by Caccini and Peri’s respective settings of Rinuccini’s verses ‘Funeste piagge’, although they are ultimately overshadowed by Achten’s pathos-laden rhetorical shaping of Monteverdi’s famous ‘Possente spirto’. Achten is a Renaissance musical polymath, directing the excellent band Scherzi Musicali from the theorbo, harp, harpsichord and bass cittern – as well as singing in the majority of items, and writing a thoroughly articulate and illuminating essay. However, this captivating experience is enriched by Deborah York’s five contributions, most notably Sartorio’s plangent lament for Euridice (‘Se desti pietà’).