Il ritorno d´Ulisse in patria
Thirty years after creating the first masterpiece in the new genre of opera, L’Orfeo in 1607 which was premiered at the court in Mantua, Monteverdi wrote two more operas for Venice where public opera houses had existed since 1637: Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria to a libretto by Giacomo Badoaro after Homer’s Odyssey, first performed in 1639/40, and L’incoronazione di Poppea, premiered shortly before his death in 1643.
In the prologue, Il Tempo (Time), La Fortuna (Fortune) and Amore (Cupid) show l’Umana fragilitá (Human Frailty) that all three of them have every mortal at their mercy. The story of the return of Ulisse (Ulysses) provides a drastic example of this: for ten years he laid siege to Troy, and his return home was prevented for another ten years by the anger of the sea-god Nettuno (Neptune). Without the support of the goddess Minerva his wanderings may have gone on forever. With her help he succeeds in passing the final test to which he is subjected following his arrival in his homeland of Ithaca: to win back his wife Penelope. She has saved herself for him, but since everyone believes him to be dead she has been wooed with ever increasing intensity by three suitors. Once Ulisse has eliminated his rivals, Penelope refuses to believe that he is her long-lost husband. It is not until the gods intervene once more that the couple, so long separated, are finally reunited.
With his unfussy but emotion-laden score, Monteverdi manages to portray the mythical figure of Odysseus as a modern man marked by his traumatic experiences of war. The depiction of Penelope is equally fascinating: so intensely does she grieve for the husband she believes lost that she refuses to accept it when he stands before her again in flesh and blood. Claus Guth continues his Monteverdi cycle with Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. As with L’Orfeo his intention is to use the 380-year-old work to trace the fates of people who could be our contemporaries.