Il ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria is the third of the Ponnelle/Harnoncourt Monteverdi collaborations and perhaps the best. Itseems to stick closer to the original Zürich staging and be less obviously a film though it was recorded in the studio and lip synched. The orchestra and conductor are visible and, in Act 3, Irus descends into the pit throws himself all over Harnoncourt. It’s the conductor too who gives him the knife he kills himself with. Is this the first (of many) times when Harnoncourt has been drawn into the theatrical action?
In many ways this is typical Ponnelle. The Prologue could almost have been lifted from Poppea, complete with comedy breasts, and there’s a lot of mugging the camera but it’s much less campy than either Poppea or Orfeo and there’s more gravitas. Backed up by some strong singing, especially a superbly dignified Penelope from Trudeliese Schmidt, and incisive work by Harnoncourt, the orchestra and the many on stage musicians it comes off as quite satisfying.
Technical details are essentially the same as for Poppea and Orfeo. I don’t think I would take this in preference to either of William Christie’s more recent recordings. The Aix-en-Provence recording is very good but my first pick would be the later Madrid effort. Still, it’s probably essential viewing for anyone interested in the history of the revival of Monteverdi’s and other early operas.