Claus Guth’s Fast Moving Ulysses in Vienna

AustriaAustria  Monteverdi: Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria: Les Talens Lyriques, Christophe Rousset (conductor), Theater an der Wien, 9.9.2012 (JMI)

New Production

Direction: Claus Guth
Sets and Costumes: Christian Schmidt
Lighting: Bernd Purkrabek


Ulisse: Garry Magee
Penelope: Delphine Galou
L’Umana Fragilitá/Pisandro/Un Feaco: Rupert Enticknap
Il Tempo/Neptuno: Phillip Ens
Fortuna/Giunone: Cornelia Horak
Amore/Minerva: Sabina Puértolas
Melanto: Katija Dragojevic
Eurimaco: Sebastian Kohlhepp
Telemaco: Pavel Kolgatin
Eumete: Marcel Beekman
Iro: Jörg Schneider
Anfinomo: Tamas Tarjanyi
Antinoo: Igor Bakan
Giove: Emanuele d’Aguanno
Ericlea: Milena Storti

Garry Magee (Ulisse), Pavel Kolgatin (Telemaco) & Sabina Puértolas (Minerva) Picture © Monika Rittershaus

This is a new production by Claus Guth, who will direct the whole Monteverdi trilogy at the Teater an der Wien. Last year he offered L’Orfeo, with the action taking place in Orfeo’s house and which was very well received by audiences and critics. This time  he uses the same idea: the whole opera takes place in the Ulisse’s house, with the action brought forward to modern times ona revolving stage, which gives a vivid setting.

The staging is due to Christian Schmidt, who has built up  various rooms of the house, always in wood: the lounge, a bar (with a hilarious bartender), an attic and a basement with military motifs, including a Jeep. There is also, unfortunately, a toilet, in which Iro offers us a scene of really rather dubious  taste.  Costumes are also signed off by Herr Schmidt and are generally quite elegant for the ladies, together with some  quite humourous outfits for Penelope’s suitors and  Eumete. The gods, when they aren’t mixing with the humans, wear large white masks.

It is not all that easy to transpose this opera to modern times but Claus Guth succeeds in doing so very nicely since, apart from a few details, his idea works  well with the libretto. There are some changes introduced that do not affect the plot;  Melanto is a kind of personal secretary to Penelope, while her beloved Eurimaco becomes the head of security at Ulisses’s mansion. Ericlea is not longer the nurse, but the maid in the house and Eumete is no longer a shepherd, but a gardener who he is really funny. Minerva wears a  messenger’s uniform, when she moves the action along with humans and Telemaco is a youngster, excited by all the gadgets of war, especially with driving the Jeep. The action unfolds with great  vivacity, based on rapid scene changes and the opera never gets even remotely boring. All in all, this  is very good work by Claus Guth.

Musical direction was in the hands of Christophe Rousset leading his Talens Lyriques. While  recognizing that the music was very good indeed, perosnally I find M. Rousset better suited to   later baroque operas than in Monteverdi. Mind you this could well be a biased perception  after hearing William Christie perform this  particular work more than a few times in the past.

The title role was played by British baritone Garry Magee, whose performance was more convincing in terms of stage presentation than in purely vocal terms. This though is also a question of  style  since I thought his singing rather too  romantic  for the role.

Delphine Galou was a good Penelope, always credible and very well suited to the role, even though I didn’t find her voice  particularly rich.

The beautiful Katija Dragojevic was a remarkable interpreter of Melanto, well accompanied by tenor Sebastian Kohlhepp as Eurimaco. But another tenor, Marcel Beekman, stole the show, offering an outstanding performance as Eumete, both as a singer and as an actor. The third tenor, the Russian Pavel Kolgatin was a pleasant Telemaco.

Sabina Puértolas gave  a remarkable performance as Minerva, also doubling as Amore in the prologue. Countertenor Rupert Enticknap was also fine at his different roles.

Cornelia Horak sounded better singing Juno than Fortuna in the Prologue while Phillip Ens was a resounding Neptune, doubling as Il Tempo in the prologue. Tenor Jörg Schneider was an adequate Iro and Tamas Tarjanyi (Anfinomo) and Igor Bakan (Antinoo) did well as the suitors. Finally, Emmanuel d’Aguanno was a presentable Jupiter and Milena Storti was an efficient Ericlea.

The theater, with a capacity of some 1,400 spectators, was at about 90% of capacity. The final reception to the artists was warm, with the greatest applause dedicated to the Garry Magee, Delphine Galou and Marcel Beekman.


Jose Mª. Irurzun