I Fagiolini has been touring its Orazio Vecchi staging, developed over four years; a brilliant, completely original show which has now been captured on DVD in a live performance at Dartington Hall in Devon.I Fagiolini's staged productions with masks were aimed to make the Venetian madrigal comedies by Bianchieri & Vecchi accessible to modern audiences.
L'Amfiparnaso is emphatically not an opera; the various commedia dell'arte characters are depicted in a series of madrigals, and the composer gave express instructions that it was to be heard only. But the jokes in Venetian dialect would be incomprehensible, so I Fagiolini has commissioned translations and witty, scurrilous introductions from Timothy Knapman to place each scene and, following Banchieri's suggestion, I Fagiolini's versatile singers double as masked mimes. Simon Callow gives Knapman's linking text with aplomb.
L'Amfiparnaso is now available on Chandos' first venture into DVD. It is a tricky balance, and generally successful. I would have preferred the treatment a little more straightforward. The outdoor settings for the lovers, who have very different music from the knock-about commedia characters, works well. I have reservations about the sepia treatment of the stage set and, such is the primacy of eye over ear, I regret that only two of the singers are usually in view at the side of the screen.
But Robert Hollingworth does invite you to follow Vecchi's own recommendation and, as an alternative, to switch off the vision to concentrate on the music and the text, printed in full with English translation in the exemplary booklet.
L'Amfiparnaso is of great historical importance, but an uncertainty is whether today's viewers will actually continue to find it funny on repeat viewing? However, at the low release price of £13 it is definitely worth exploring.
Copyright © 2004, Peter Grahame Woolf