2017 marks the 450th anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s birth, known to his more discerning contemporaries as “oracolo della musica”. Moreover, Claudio Monteverdi is also considered as one of the founders of opera, who transformed the miniature form of the madrigal into a full-scale music drama. On the occasion of the jubilee, Sir John Eliot Gardiner is dedicating a series of performances of the surviving trilogy of Monteverdi’s great operas, L'Orfeo, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria und L’incoronazione di Poppea, to the visionary sixteenth-century composer. This semi-staged performances are directed by Elsa Rooke and John Eliot Gardiner.
Pastoral, ego trip, political drama
With more than 20 international well-known singer-soloists with Krystian Adam as Orfeo, Furio Zanasi as Ulisse and Hana Blažíková as Poppea Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the Monteverdi Choir and the English Baroque Soloists will begin their tour through Europe and Amerika in April 2017. The one-time staging of this opera trilogy in Germany will take place on 2, 3 and 5 September 2017 in the Philharmonie at the Musikfest Berlin, produced by Berliner Festspiele in cooperation with the Berliner Philharmoniker Foundation. “By performing the trilogy in consecutive performances we hope to take audiences on a voyage – from the pastoral world to the court and the city, from myth to political history, from innocence to corruption, from a portrait of man subject to the whim of the gods to a hero imprisoned by his human condition, and finally to a dual portrait of mad lovers, uncontrolled in their ambition and lust. Who is the true victor in the end? Perhaps the music.” (John Eliot Gardiner)
An innovative composer
There can be little doubt that the novelty of Monteverdi’s work surpassed the art of his forbears and brought about the dawn of a new age. The repercussions of it are still with us today, and his music has lost none of its power and expressive force. His operas invite direct comparison with the greatest artists and scientists of his age – Galileo, Shakespeare, Caravaggio, Rubens, Titian and Tintoretto. Above all, it is Monteverdi’s talent for communicating emotion through music that is the driving force of his operas. “The full unchanging gamut of human emotions – bewildering, passionate, uncomfortable and sometimes uncontrollable – form the subtext of all of Monteverdi’s surviving musical dramas”, explains John Eliot Gardiner. “More often than not, he shows a deep empathy for his characters – including the less salubrious ones – just as his contemporary Shakespeare does. Both revelled in juxtaposing tragedy with lowlife comedy. Both men lived on the cusp of exciting and dangerous, cultural worlds.” Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo, which premiered in 1607, is considered to be the first great late Renaissance/early Baroque opera and is based on the legend of the fruitless journey of the singer Orpheus to the underworld to bring his dead lover Eurydice back to the living world. Homer’s Odyssey was the base for Monteverdi’s Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, which was composed in 1641. And with L’incoronazione di Poppea, which premiered in 1643, Monteverdi tackled a historical subject for the first time: Roman emperor Nero’s erotic obsession with power-hungry Poppea.