Monteverdi the magnificent

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Monteverdi the magnificent

Post by lennygoran » Tue May 02, 2017 4:50 am

Monteverdi the magnificentI see Monteverdi will be big this year in England and elsewhere too-so says Times of Great Britain critic Neil Fisher. Regards, Len

Monteverdi the magnificent: 450 years of sex, sin and sopranos

With the anniversary of Claudio Monteverdi’s birth this month, a chorus of maestros explain why the father of modern opera is so influential

The birth of (good) opera

Although Claudio Monteverdi, who was born in Cremona in May 1567, didn’t invent opera, he was the man who made it great — beginning with Orfeo, which was written in 1607 during Monteverdi’s long service at the Gonzaga court in Mantua. “Everything is already there,” the conductor Christophe Rousset says of the piece. “The ensembles, the choruses, the dances — it’s every single element of what opera will be.”

John Eliot Gardiner, who is celebrating the anniversary by touring all of Monteverdi’s three surviving operas around the world, goes further. “It’s impossible to imagine many of the great Italian composers without Monteverdi’s operas — Verdi in particular. When I think of Verdi’s Falstaff or bits of Simon Boccanegra or even passages of Don Carlos, it seems to grow out of the soil of Monteverdi.”

Winning words

Opera composers and librettists have endlessly debated how to balance the score with the text. Perhaps more of them should listen to Monteverdi. In the same year as Orfeo, the composer wrote in his collection of “scherzi musicali” (musical jokes) a serious injunction he believed all composers of vocal works should follow: to “make the words the mistress of the music and not the servant”.

This didn’t mean that Monteverdi was only interested in writing dutiful accompaniments to florid displays from rouged-up castratos. For Rousset, Monteverdi’s operatic scena or extended madrigal Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, which the conductor is presenting at the Brighton Festival, gets to the nub of Monteverdi’s ability to paint both feelings and events in music. In a poem by Torquato Tasso about war, chivalry, love and death, “he puts into music the horses accelerating, the knights in battle, the combattimento itself — you can even hear the swords — so it’s very descriptive. And the music gives colours to the emotion.”

The ego has landed

In the era of an all-powerful aristocracy, Monteverdi dared to push back: he knew his own worth. So he chafed at the whims of the Gonzaga court — which included forcing him to change the end of Orfeo. “In the original ending Orpheus gets ripped to pieces by maenads. Someone didn’t like that, so we got the focus group ending instead,” explains Robert Hollingworth, director of vocal group I Fagiolini. The new epilogue glorified Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga, aka Claudio’s boss, comparing him to munificent Apollo summoning Orpheus to the heavens.

Once Monteverdi had taken up his new position as music director of St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice, he no longer had to bow and scrape. He wrote letters to Mantua about his improved salary, crowing most about how he no longer had to line up like a servant to collect his monthly pay packet. “If he [the director of music] does not go at the appointed time to pick it up, it is brought round to his house . . . when I am about to perform either chamber or church music, I swear to your lordship that the entire city comes running.” He wasn’t quite a free agent, however. In the 1620s Monteverdi was anonymously denounced to the Inquisition after describing the doge’s cliques and senior clergy as “pantaloni” and “coglioni”; literally, “trousers” and “testicles” (“stuffed shirts” might be the best translation). Perhaps realising that the city needed their marvellous maestro, the inquisitors took no further action.

The big sell

Monteverdi’s sacred masterpiece of 1610, the Vespers, will be celebrated all over the world this year — including at the BBC Proms. But this 90-minute collection of loosely liturgical music was essentially a portfolio — a résumé that explained just what he could offer the doge and the faithful in Venice’s cathedral. “It was a kind of a job application for St Mark’s,” says Gardiner. And it worked: Monteverdi got the job as “maestro di cappella”, which he held until his death in 1643. Experts still differ on exactly how (or even if) Vespers should be performed, because it doesn’t seem to fit any regular Catholic service but, for Gardiner, St Mark’s holds the key. “He calibrated the piece to the liturgy there, and to the architectural features of the basilica — it fits like a glove. I’ve done the piece five or six times there and every time it’s like a homecoming.”

Sin city

Venice offered Monteverdi an enhanced pay package, tenure for life and civic responsibility. But it also lured him back to opera — which was having its initial boom in the world’s first public theatres led by the Teatro San Cassiano, which opened there in 1637. Venice was the ideal place: it had no censorious king or duke (the doge was elected) and was used to providing bawdy entertainment fit for carnival season. Plus, this winter season usefully coincided with downtime for the city’s shipwrights and navvies who worked on the innovative stage machinery.

Monteverdi’s surviving Venetian operas — The Return of Ulysses and, especially, The Coronation of Poppea — met the box-office challenge head on. Poppea, says Gardiner, “is an opera all about corruption, political ambition, lust and sexual predators”. The piece is about servants as well as their masters — the bawdy maids and pissed-off lackeys get almost as much air time. This isn’t so surprising when you realise that half the target audience of the house was made up by rich guests’ gondoliers, who had punted the toffs to the theatre and spent the evening on benches in the platea, the cheap area just in front of the stage, before punting them back. They needed to stay awake.

Sex: on stage . . .

Monteverdi had been ordained a priest in 1632, but that didn’t stop him and his librettist on Poppea going farther than any opera composer had gone to depict lust as well as love. The petulant Nero busts an early stage taboo in Poppea with a casual reference to orgasm (“that inflamed spirit which in kissing, I spilled in thee”). Then there’s the opera’s highly unconventional ending — instead of the coronation itself, there’s a seductive duet for Nero and his lover Poppea — possibly even meant to mimic coitus itself. The musicologist Richard Taruskin certainly makes a plausible case, referring to the “writhing coiling movements, the increased agitation of the middle section and the dissonant friction between the singers’ parts”. In other words, it’s the full Monteverdi.

. . . and off

Even inside St Mark’s, Monteverdi’s music doesn’t stop being sensual. The Vespers contains two motets drawn from the Song of Solomon, in which earthly beauty is celebrated more than the celestial kind. Just because the piece was intended to be heard in the bling-spattered basilica of St Mark’s doesn’t necessarily make it utterly pious in intent. Gardiner had first-hand experience of this, he says, during a troublesome all-night recording session of the Vespers, necessitated by a BBC cameramen’s strike. “We got to the Duo Seraphim and one of the tenors walked up to his place in one of the galleries, and there he saw a priest making rather obvious love to a young girl. The man just looked up and said, “Oh, mi spiace, scusi scusi — continuate.” (I’m sorry — please continue).

Monteverdi 450 highlights

The Other Vespers

Ever intrepid, Robert Hollingworth and I Fagiolini present an imagined religious service largely based on music compiled in Monteverdi’s other great sacred collection, the Selva morale e spirituale, alongside some works by the composer’s contemporaries. The group have also recorded the collection on Decca (out now).
May 7, Glyndebourne; August 19, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Monteverdi Choir

The group founded by John Eliot Gardiner to sing Monteverdi’s music was always going to have a busy 2017. They tour the three operas in a specially devised concert staging.
May 8 and 28, Colston Hall, Bristol; August 14-17, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Monteverdi on the radio

BBC Radio 3 celebrates the composer in a week of programming, including a special edition of Music Matters (May 13), Composer of the Week (May 15-19) and a documentary, Monteverdi’s Women (May 14)

Les Talens Lyriques

Marking its own quarter-century, Christophe Rousset’s band celebrate Monteverdi with an exciting mixed programme comprising the celebrated lament from Arianna, the rarely performed Il ballo delle ingrate and Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.
May 21, Brighton Dome

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria
Tim Supple stages The Return of Ulysses for the new Grange Festival in Hampshire, a collaboration with the Academy of Ancient Music, starring Anna Bonitatibus as Penelope.
June 7 to July 2, The Grange, Alresford, Hampshire

Monteverdi on the Move

More I Fagiolini, this time at the York Early Music Festival, where with the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble and students of the University of York the group will present the 1610 Vespers in the central nave of York Minster, where you’ll be encouraged to get as close to the artists as you like.
July 7, York Minster

Vespers at the Proms
The galleries of the Royal Albert Hall make Monteverdi’s choral masterpiece a thrilling sonic experience. The anniversary performance has been entrusted to a new star of the early music scene, Raphaël Pichon, and his Pygmalion ensemble.
July 31, Royal Albert Hall, London

The Return of Ulysses

The Royal Opera is a little late to the party with this production (in English translation) of the first of Monteverdi’s surviving Venetian operas, starring Roderick Williams as the Homeric hero struggling to win back his home and wife’s heart.
January 10-21 2018, Roundhouse, London NW1 ... -n0tmhxt8l

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Re: Monteverdi the magnificent

Post by jbuck919 » Tue May 02, 2017 4:43 pm

Even inside St Mark’s, Monteverdi’s music doesn’t stop being sensual. The Vespers contains two motets drawn from the Song of Solomon, in which earthly beauty is celebrated more than the celestial kind. Just because the piece was intended to be heard in the bling-spattered basilica of St Mark’s doesn’t necessarily make it utterly pious in intent.
I've always wondered why no significant commentator (to my knowledge) has ever made anything of the fact that the aria "Nigra sum," which is from the highly sensual Song of Solomon word for word, is sung by a tenor, a male singing as a male and not a castrato (trouser roles did not yet exist), though the entire passage is spoken by the female lover of a king. Maybe the sheer uniqueness of the setting in all of opera plus oratorio before and after intimidates even speculation.

The tenor in the following is Nigel Rogers. Andrew Parrott is just the guy who uploaded the thing.

There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.
-- Johann Sebastian Bach

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Re: Monteverdi the magnificent

Post by Ted Quanrud » Tue May 02, 2017 9:35 pm

I already have my tickets for Oct. 12-15 when Sir John Eliot Gardiner brings his Monteverdi Choir and other forces to the Harris Theater in Chicago for all three Monteverdi operas. As a sort of counterbalance, I will be back in Chicago the following month for two performances of Die Walkure at the Lyric Opera.

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