<< -- 2 -- Robert Hugill STRONG NARRATIVE FLOW
Good scholarship underpins the work, but Ringer has chosen to embed his references in the text, which can be cumbersome. Then again, he has managed to dig up some rather choice quotes: 'An audience member of Caccini's Il rapimento di Cefalo ... complained that "the style of singing easily led to boredom".'
Ringer is a good narrative writer, but he tends to hyperbole. For example: 'the differences between Peri's recitative and Monteverdi are greater than their similarities. Monteverdi's recitative seems less an "imitation of speech" than a genuine speech, a speech flowing with all the unpredictable variety of living thought and spontaneous expression'. I can see the need to impress on the reader the importance of Monteverdian recitative, but this seems to be destined to annoy the experienced and put off the newcomer.
But Ringer does manage to get over his points and by the end of the opening chapter, the reader has a clear idea about why Monteverdi is important. More helpfully, he uses the quarrel with Giovanni Maria Artusi to illuminate Monteverdi's attitude to the text.
The chapter entitled 'Lend me a Castrato' -- Opera comes to Mantua, might suffer from an over catchy title but Ringer is adept at bringing together all the myriad influences that lay behind the impulse to create Orfeo. It is difficult today to imagine ourselves into a frame of mind where opera was new and different, but Ringer certainly helps us to try.
When it comes to the opera itself, Ringer has a nice line in describing the event but the lack of illustrations is rather a limitation. But this is followed by a whole chapter describing the musico-dramatic flow of the opera in highly colourful terms ('rasping winds'; 'Music's bittersweet power conveyed in a mellifluous melting tune'). This is where I began to wonder about the book. Frankly, having a description of Orfeo running to over forty pages seems a little too much. Having read it once and then listened to the opera on disc, I cannot see the average listener reading this section in detail again.
Copyright © 21 September 2006
Robert Hugill, London UK