Back another two centuries, to 1640 and a late masterpiece by the first great figure in opera history: Claudio Monteverdi and his Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria – “The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland”. Raymond Leppard conducted a production at Glyndebourne in the early 1970s, based on his own edition of the textually problematic work – there are gaps in the only surviving score. Revived in 1979, the production – which has gone down in the annals of opera legend – was recorded by CBS. Gramophone’s reviewer declared the performance “gloriously vivid in humanity and splendour.
Ulisse was one of the first operas to be written for the public stage, not for royalty. Monteverdi was in his seventies when he wrote it, yet it is a work of intense and youthful passion, as well as wisdom. At nearly three hours (in this version, anyway), it demands a lot from its audience, and seeing it at home via DVD is a great way to make its acquaintance.
This production dates from 2000; this particular live performance was recorded in the fairly intimate Théâtre de Jeu de Palme in 2002. The production is simple but eloquent.
Progenesi are a young prog band hailing from Milan and formed by four musicians coming from different musical backgrounds. In 2012 they released an interesting debut album titled "Ulisse L'Alfiere Nero". Their aim was to blend progressive rock, jazz and classical music and among the influences they boast you can find Premiata Forneria Marconi, Le Orme, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Genesis, Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree along with jazzists as John Coltrane and Dave Brubeck or classical composers as Bela Bartok and Chopin. According to the band, "Ulisse L'Alfiere Nero" is a concept album freely based on Homer's epic verses about the fall of Troy in the Iliad…
"Last year we gave a performance here in the Teatro Real of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, this year we have Ulisse and next year Poppea. We’re no longer in Mantova and we’re no longer in the Court of the Prince. We’re in Venezia and essentially [at] the beginning of the public opera house. We’re also at the beginning of what will become opera seria, that’s to say beyond the instrumental colors, the great dances and the great pageants, [are] the beautiful effects of the singing, it’s bel-canto and so the orchestral accompaniment becomes simpler…"- from William Christie’s interview 2008 included on in the DVD
Il Ritorno dUlisse in Patria is based closely on the final books of Homers Odyssey and is hailed as the key work marking the threshold between the Renaissance and Baroque periods. Together with producer Klaus Michael Grüber, Nikolaus Harnoncourt strikes a new balance between musical polish and distillation of the essence of dramatic action. It is a kind of théâtre pauvre, which works with a few carefully chosen and powerful symbols, was how the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung reviewed the production. The main action takes place on little more than an angled revolving stage in front of a whitewashed wall which hints at the landscape of a Greek island.
Having previously directed much-admired recordings of both 'Orfeo' and 'Poppea' (not forgetting the madrigal books), Claudio Cavina now turns his attention to the enduring Homeric-inspired tale of constancy and virtue first performed in Venice over 350 years ago, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Conscious of the restrictions inherent in the single surviving score, now kept in Vienna, and that it is likely that Monteverdi was not the only composer involved for the original production, Cavina brings his deep understanding to bear on Monteverdi’s inspiration. In this latest artistic endeavour Claudio Cavina is joined by the instrumentalists of La Venexiana and a superb group of singers: Anicio Zorzi Giustiniani as Ulisse; Josè Maria La Monaco as Penelope; Makoto Sakurada and Roberta Mameli have starring roles and Cavina, himself, takes a singing role.