04 Apr 2023
Three completely different theatrical manuscripts on stage, held together in the pit by the Concentus Musicus Wien under Pablo Heras-Casado. He has already shown in previous productions that minimalism is not his thing: sonority and a joyfulness of colour reign supreme.
The music, however, is unreservedly heavenly, with the sterling Concentus Musicus and the central, lute-dominated continuo group, conductor Pablo Heras-Casado gleefully expanding the infinite palette of colours. An object lesson.
Music divine, direction good, stage design grotty
“Sì”, the two of them purred super quietly as Odysseus and Penelope, and it seemed like a groping renewal of their marriage vows. To this, the Concentus Musicus under the baton of Pablo Heras-Casado unpacked its very softest sounds, and for a brief moment everyone in the horseshoe-shaped round of the Vienna State Opera was probably completely happy.
The ugly junk managed the feat of instantly absorbing any performing energy and creating a persistent counterpoint of ugliness to the poetry of the music conjured up from the orchestra pit by the Concentus Musicus Wien and Heras-Casado. For it was already a medium-size miracle what a lush, abundant feast of sound the Spaniard created from the meagre ingredients of the opera manuscript (it is in the holdings of the Austrian National Library). To the skeleton of voices and bass, the 45-year-old created a body of musical text that was able to please with a high level of sonic pleasure.
And so the orchestra pit often turned into a whirlpool in which it was just bubbling and bubbling, from which flattering sounds poured into the ears of the audience like from a cornucopia. No wonder that it was conductor and orchestra who received the brightest, most euphoric applause at the end.
And Pablo Heras-Casado in the pit? He has equipped the Concentus Musicus with such a wide range of instruments that he can colour the sound (not least thanks to an organ) and savours the few dance-like moments of the music.
The musical interpretation even sets far more drastic accents than the play on stage. And also more provocative, if you will – because Pablo Heras-Casado at the conductor’s podium of the ConcentusMusicus has a powerful grip, provides sharp cuts, drastic colour effects and, last but not least, igniting rhythms. Multicoloured orchestral soundThe appealing highlights of the score – that is, what the arias represent from the high baroque onwards – are still provided by Monteverdi’s ballet-inspired dance intermezzi.Not only does the Concentus, with its multicoloured continuo group of harpsichord, lute, harp and cymbal sounds, savour them to their heart’s content. The harmonic humus, sparse in itself, on which the singing voices (with few exceptions at least properly cast) spread out their declamatory narration of the story of the returning Odysseus, is also full of atmospheric dynamics and colouristics. The orchestra thus releases the energy with which the listener’s attention is sharpened for the reflections, comments and emotional surges of the protagonists.
Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado has no need for mannerisms and exaggerations; he believes in Claudio Monteverdi’s strengths and trusts in the genius of this musical theatrical artist. Together with the Concentus Musicus Vienna in the orchestra pit, he has created a sensitive representation of this “score”, which is in reality a pencil drawing that the performers and arrangers have to colour. The Concentus Musicus receives the greatest applause […]. “Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria” will be the highlight of the Monteverdi cycle at the Vienna State Opera.
Musically, everything was just right at the premiere, even if some would have liked more contours, more sharpness in the sound. Heras-Casado nevertheless gives the work expression in a house that is actually much too large, even if at times with a somewhat too quiet cautiousness that often makes refined recitatives sound sluggish.
Heras-Casado and the orchestra undoubtedly have “their” Monteverdi down pat, but the music does not sound quite ideal due to the dimensions of the Staatsoper. Nevertheless, Heras-Casado and the Concentus have proven their high musical competence for Monteverdi (in all three operas) and were strongly acclaimed by the audience.
It was precisely this dynamic brought about by Pablo Heras-Casado, who played perfectly with the affects and their musical realisation, that thrilled and made for an exciting evening of theatre despite the boring events on stage.