Program Notes: “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria”

The Yale Baroque Opera Project is pleased to present Monteverdi’s opera Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, the eighth—and most ambitious—YBOP production since its founding in 2007. Starring a cast of Yale’s most outstanding undergraduate singers, and featuring two distinguished YBOP graduates, our production brings Monteverdi’s late great masterpiece to New Haven for the first time.

Monteverdi’s interpretation of the memorable second half of Homer’s Odyssey, Il ritorno d’Ulisse traces the final leg of the hero’s tortuous return to his homeland and his long-suffering wife Penelope. Written and premiered in Venice in 1640, Il ritorno d’Ulisse represents the late style of the composer generally credited with being the first great opera composer, a reputation he earned with his very first opera, Orfeo, written more than thirty years earlier (and performed during YBOP’s first season).

Famed for his commitment to the portrayal of real human beings who, by moving him, would move the passions of his audience, Monteverdi’s musical drama presents a full range of human emotions and experience—from hedonistic sensual passion to chaste marital love; from ironic manipulation and violent confrontations to the tenderest of reconciliations. Deep feelings of self-doubt and self-deception, anger, indecision and ambivalence, are resolved in the reuniting of friend with friend, father with son, husband with wife. With the range and stature of its characters and the dramatic momentum of its plot, its extraordinary cathartic effect and narrative inevitability, Il ritorno d’Ulisse recalls the power of ancient tragedy; representing the fullest realization of the goal of the inventors of opera, it is true classical drama.

Like its better-known successor, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Il ritorno d’Ulisse deserves a permanent place in the operatic repertory. YBOP is particularly excited to bring this remarkable opera back to the stage.