Review: Concerto Italiano: L’Orfeo

Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo tells the ancient Greek legend of poet and prophet Orpheus and his descent, for love, into Hades. Written at the intersection of Renaissance and Baroque periods, L’Orfeo is the earliest opera still regularly performed.

Last year, Baroque ensemble Concerto Italiano performed Monteverdi’s Marian Vespers to audiences in Perth and Melbourne. On Tuesday they returned to Australian shores, performing an exclusive premiere of L’Ofero for The Adelaide Festival.

During the two-hour performance, director and harpsichordist Rinaldo Alessandrini breathed vitality into the 410 year-old masterpiece. There was highly dramatic storytelling: tenor Valerio Contaldo conveyed Orfeo’s loss through both voice and emotive body language. Together, the 11 vocalists impressed and captivated the audience through their grasp of character and narrative.

The instrumentalist interspersed flashes of soaring buoyancy with moments of tempered serenity. The glory of old instruments was on full display: there were long-necked lutes, violins, a harp, various percussions, and two theorbos adding their distinct bass notes.

L’Orfeo could have, in another director’s hands, dwelled into stifling and heavy territory. Fortunately, there was a natural informality to the performance, a sense of experiment in both music and vocals. Combined, this gave the old opera a very modern twist.

Concerto Italiano: L’Orfeo was performed at the Adelaide Town Hall as part of The Adelaide Festival on Tuesday, March 7.

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