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The Return of Ulysses review at Wales Millennium Centre Cardiff

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Monteverdi’s opera is one of the earliest in the repertory and its plot – describing the return of the Greek hero Ulysses to his island home and long abandoned wife after the Trojan War – can seem distant too. So it’s a great virtue of David Alden’s staging, wonderfully designed by Ian MacNeil and Gideon Davey, that it makes the whole experience so immediate and involving.

The period is moved to the thirties, allowing for some stylish costumes for the humans, the gods and the goddesses and other witty visual conceits on the way. Indeed, Alden holds the complex narrative in a fine balance between drama and comedy, giving the moving situations genuine dignity but also providing full value in the plentiful comic relief.

The show sounds as good as it looks with the leading Monteverdi interpreter Rinaldo Alessandrini deriving immaculate period-instrument performance from a much slimmed-down WNO Orchestra, with a few specialist players added. Translating the piece into English might nevertheless have been a better option.

Neither Paul Nilon’s Ulysses nor Sara Fulgoni’s Penelope possesses quite the variety and authority these two rich and heroic roles require. But much of the rest is excellent, with a splendid team of parasitic suitors led by Neil Jenkins as the glutton Irus. Elizabeth Vaughan’s Ericlea is another interpretation that maximises on the possibilities. But taken as a whole, the show is distinguished and grips the attention throughout.

Production Information

Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff, September 16, 23, then touring until November 28

Composer
Claudio Monteverdi
Director
David Alden
Producer
Welsh National Opera
Cast includes
Paul Nilon, Sara Fulgoni, Ed Lyon, Clive Bayley, Neil Jenkins
Running time
3hrs

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