Monteverdi-Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (Rolfe Johnson/Araya/Wilson) (1998) (NTSC)

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Opera Booklet
Rating Rated E
Year Of Production 1998
Running Time 148:32 (Case: 176)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (60:18)
Dual Disc Set
Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Hans Hulscher
Opus Arte
Select Audio-Visual Distrib
Starring Anthony Rolfe Johnson
Graciela Araya
Diana Montague
Brian Asawa
Jaco Hujipen
Monica Bacelli
Machteld Baumans
Toby Spence
Christopher Gillett
Mark Tucker
Alexander Oliver
Adrian Thompson
Case Amaray-Opaque-Dual
RPI ? Music Claudio Monteverdi

Video (NTSC) Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Italian Linear PCM 48/16 2.0 (1536Kb/s)
Italian dts 5.1 (768Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 480i (NTSC)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.78:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles German
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Monteverdi's second surviving opera dates from his last years, being premiered in 1640 when the composer was 73, a very advanced age for the 17th century. Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (The return of Ulysses to his homeland) is based on Homer's epic The Odyssey, and deals with the last portion where Ulysses returns home after ten years wandering to his wife and slays the prospective suitors who seek her hand.

    The story unfolds with little in the way of dramatic action and probably seems very static to modern audiences weaned on the melodramatics of 19th century opera. I have seen a production of this same opera conducted by Nikolaus Harnoncourt (I think, or maybe it was William Christie) which included the various squabbling gods, all of whom are absent from this production. On watching the extras it turns out that the musical director Glen Wilson has trimmed back portions of the opera and rearranged the order of some scenes. While this shortens the work and concentrates on the human aspect of the drama it takes away some of the grandeur that the fuller version contains. His motivation appears to be to remove anything not in Homer and those parts that may not be by Monteverdi, but rather by his collaborators.

    The stage direction, like all of the works in the box set in which this DVD appears, is by Pierre Audi and is staged at the Het Muziektheater in Amsterdam. The staging is spartan, with a few large rocks or some wooden furniture on a fairly bare stage. The acting is well directed, allowing the performers to act out what they are singing.

    The singing is generally good apart from the character Iro. This comical, obese buffoon looks suitably decrepit but the singer seems to have vocal problems, his voice being painful for me to listen to. Otherwise the singing is very good, Diana Montague (Minerva) having a lovely tone and Graciela Araya (Penelope) being impressive, even managing some tears when lamenting her missing husband. He, Ulisse, is played by the veteran Anthony Rolfe Johnson and while his voice sounds a little on the old side he manages to bring some gravitas to the role.

    All in all this is a satisfactory performance of this opera, though it lacks something in comparison to the Harnoncourt version mentioned above. It is considerably shorter as well.

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Transfer Quality


    The opera is shown in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. This would appear to be the original aspect ratio. The video is in NTSC format.

    This is a pretty good transfer with nothing serious to complain about. The video quality is helped by often being in medium close-up with dark backgrounds, though occasional low level lighting works against this to a degree. Colour is average due to the lighting, and natural flesh tones are not to be seen most of the time. The video is a little soft.

    There are some minor compression artefacts but these are not distracting. Being a video recording there are no film artefacts.

    Optional English subtitles are displayed in clear white text and are easy to read. In the scene where Ulisse slays the suitors one character refers to him having killed them with arrows, while in the stage action this has been changed to stabbing them with a sword, which is a little confusing.

    Both discs are RSDL-formatted and the layer breaks, which appear at 60:18 and 50:16 respectively, are in natural breaks in the action and are not disruptive.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two audio tracks on this disc, being Linear PCM 2.0 stereo and DTS 5.1. I listened to the DTS track and sampled the other.

    The DTS track is more natural sounding than that on L'Orfeo from the same source. The voices and orchestra are better blended together and there is a good balance between them most of the time. On a few occasions when the singers faced or moved away from the audience the level of their voices dropped noticeably.

    I noted some harshness and distortion particularly when the voices were louder. This was a problem with both audio tracks.

    The surround channels are used to reproduce the acoustic of the concert hall, with the only directional effects being audience noise. The front soundstage represents the relative position of the singers to the audience, while the television direction makes much use of close-ups and different angles. Therefore what you hear through the speakers is often not consistent with the position of the singers on screen.

    The low frequency effects channel is not much used. Some of the performers footsteps and a couple of very loud thunder effects in Act Two are the only times the subwoofer rumbled into life.

    The DTS track is at a higher volume level than the Linear PCM track. The latter has a slightly rounder and more realistic sound to it, but not by much. The DTS track particularly favours the orchestra, with some very lively flute playing keeping the tweeters, um, tweeting.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The twenty-page booklet includes a three-page essay by the music director explaining and justifying both his excisions and the arrangement of the musical accompaniment.

Synopsis (4:59)

    A spoken synopsis with stills.

Introduction (18:18)

    This appears to be an introduction to the original TV broadcast, and mainly features Pierre Audi rehearsing the singers, plus some interview material as he discusses what he was aiming at. Glen Wilson discusses the cuts he inflicted on the piece.

Cast Gallery

    A series of photographs of the cast members, identifying who they are and the characters they play.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This release appears to be identical throughout the known world.


    A good staging of what's left of the opera after the music director has applied his scissors to it.

    The video quality is good.

    The audio quality is very good.

    Some useful extras.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Philip Sawyer (Bio available.)
Friday, August 17, 2007
Review Equipment
DVDSony DVP-NS9100ES, using HDMI output
DisplaySony VPL-HS60 LCD Projector projected to 80" screen. Calibrated with Digital Video Essentials (PAL). This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 720p.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to DVD Player, Dolby Digital and DTS. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationPioneer VSX-AX4ASIS for surrounds, Elektra Reference for mains
SpeakersMain: B&W Nautilus 800; Centre: Tannoy Sensys DCC; Rear: Tannoy Revolution R3; Subwoofer: Richter Thor Mk IV

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