The Return of Ulysses to His Homeland is one of the founding works of lyric art. Written in 1640 by the Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi in Venice, it transported the French capital’s Théâtre des Champs Elysée to the dawn of Italian Baroque.
Czech mezzo soprano Magdalena Kožená is Penelope. She excels at singing this repertoire:
“When I first looked at this role – and I’m singing it for the first time – when I read it, I thought: hum, it’s a little bit boring because she’s lamenting her husband’s not being there for 20 years and he finally comes and she doesn’t even recognise him, and everybody says it’s him!”
“What we did on this production is that she, of course, recognises him immediately.”
Ulysses killing the suiters
“But as he massacres everybody, she says: it’s not him, it’s not my husband I knew 20 years ago and that becomes finally much more interesting to play.”
Rolando Villazón is Ulysses. The Franco-Mexican tenor’s baroque odissey began 12 years ago with Monteverdi at the insistence of Emmanuelle Haïm, who conducts the orchestra. He recalls their first encounter.
“At first, I said: no, it’s not my repertoire. She told me me about the poetry of that era, she told me about the composer of course, she plyed a bit on her harpsichord and so on… And after half an hour, she asked me: so what then? I said: listen, after 5 minutes I would have said yes to singing heavy metal!”
“Monteverdi is theatre. If you only sing it, it becomes monotonous and it’s not very interesting. You have to play it really, play with the voice.”
“There are – I don’t know if it’s what we do but – Oh ah ah – sounds like that you wouldn’t use in another repertoire. Ah ah, ah. if the music score, the drama requires it, then you use them, you need to go out of you comfort zone and look for them.”
Still particularly rare in the opera world, this production of The Return of Ulysses is directed by two women. Alongside Emmanuelle Haïm, Mariame Clément signs an ingenious staging, juggling with contemporary and antique references, humour and drama.
Magdalena Kožená, Soprano:
“It was the first time I was directed by two women and I have to say I enjoyed it immensely.”
“I think there is a special understanding of the woman I’m playing here, getting older, waiting for her husband.”
“Also, it was somehow extremely calm, constructive, gentle, which is not alway the case in opera productions.”
“Here, we’re just spending a great time and I think that’s how it should be.