Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda must be, at twenty two minutes, one of the shortest operas around. In typical Monterverdi style though it crams a lot of music and emotion into a very short space. Based on a story by Torquato Tasso, it concerns a Christian knight, Tancredi, and a Moorish princess, Clorinda. Somehow they have managed to fall in love but are still fighting on opposite sides They meet on the battlefield but as each has their visor down they don’t recognize each other. They fight a long and bloody single combat in which Tancredi mortally wounds Clorinda. When their helmets are removed they recognize each other and Clorinda asks Tancredi to baptize her so they can be united in heaven. It’s pretty dodgy theology but great theatre.
The piece features a narrator who does most of the singing while our hero and heroine bash each other around noisily. In Pierre Audi’s production for Det Nederlandse Opera the narrator is very aware of the characters he is interacting with but they don’t seem to be aware of him. The hole thing has a very intimate feel and is played out on a stage bare but for two fires and two rocks. As so often with Monteverdi it’s very terse and the drama comes mainly from the music. I found it very intense and quite emotionally affecting.
The performances are excellent. Lorna Anderson’s Clorinda and Maarten Koningsberger’s Tancredi act out the awkward combat of knights in heavy armour convincingly and sing their few lines equally well. Guy de Mey is totally convincing as a somewhat horrified narrator managing to extract full emotional value from Monteverdi’s tightly constructed line. They get great support from conductor David Porcelijn and the ASKO Ensemble playing an accompaniment arranged (if my Dutch is correct) by Luciano Berio.
The stage is pretty dark throughout which makes video direction tricky but Rob van den Berg captures the atmosphere well enough. There’s a very good 16:9 picture (filmed in HD I’d guess), though it’s a bit wasted on this very dark set! The sound is excellent DTS 5.1 with PCM stereo as another option. Subtitle options are English, French, German, Dutch, Italian and Spanish. There is a useful bonus feature with interviews with Audi and Koningsberger.
Any Monteverdi fan would find this disk well worth half an hour.