July 20, 2003
Bayerische Staatoper's production of Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria had almost no redeeming qualities. If they find Baroque operas so boring they shouldn't bother putting them on. It shows very little respect to be making Monteverdi's opera into a farce. It was so bad that even I could not sit through it twice, though I had a ticket for the performance on the 18th, the thought of going again made me feel ill.
David Alden's remarkable work included the return of the Chattering Teeth head, playboy bunnies, a gigantic projected raven, hot dogs, and the eating of a cat. If he had only stopped here, it would have been merely bad. The laughter that ensued after this must have been gratifying. I'm sure they were pleased to be able to use the Chattering Teeth head again in Siegfried.
Worse yet, the singers were made to tap dance and flamenco during the music, although the movements involved are both percussive and inappropriate for Monteverdi. It made me wish for the drunken staggering Alden has used in every other production of his I've seen, at least that is not loud. Also, some of the singers would punctuate their parts with stuttering or screaming, elements not found in the music.
It must have been difficult for the audience to focus on the singing, they talked and laughed quite a lot. Rodney Gilfry, who sang the title role, has an excellent voice, very rich and full. Vivica Genaux, as Penelope, was disappointing, the mezzo's voice is underdeveloped. She sounds light and young. Toby Spence (Telemaco) also sounded a bit young, but for his part it was appropriate.
I was unable to get a good feel for Monteverdi from this opera, as the production was distracting. The scene in which Odysseus kills the suitors had the most powerful music.