Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Proms Saturday Matinée 1

It might seem churlish to complain about the BBC Proms coverage of Pierre Boulez’s 90th anniversary. After all, there are a few performances dotted around — although some seem rather oddly programmed, as if embarrassed at the presence of new or newish music. (That could certainly not be claimed in the present case.)

The Maid of Pskov (Pskovityanka) , St. Petersburg

I recently spent four days in St. Petersburg, timed to coincide with the annual Stars of the White Nights Festival. Yet the most memorable singing I heard was neither at the Mariinsky Theater nor any other performance hall. It was in the small, nearly empty church built for the last Tsar, Nicholas II, at Tsarskoye Selo.

Prom 11 — Grange Park Opera: Fiddler on the Roof

As I walked up Exhibition Road on my way to the Royal Albert Hall, I passed a busking tuba player whose fairground ditties were enlivened by bursts of flame which shot skyward from the bell of his instrument, to the amusement and bemusement of a rapidly gathering pavement audience.

Saul, Glyndebourne

A brilliant theatrical event, bringing Handel’s theatre of the mind to life on stage

Roberta Invernizzi, Wigmore Hall

‘Here, thanks be to God, my opera is praised to the skies and there is nothing in it which does not please greatly.’ So wrote Antonio Vivaldi to Marchese Guido Bentivoglio d’Aragona in Ferrara in 1737.

Montemezzi: L’amore dei tre Re

Asphyxiations, atrophy by poison, assassination: in Italo Montemezzi’s L’amore dei tre Re (The Love of the Three Kings, 1913) foul deed follows foul deed until the corpses are piled high. 

Prom 4: Andris Nelsons

The precision of attack in the opening to Beethoven’s Creatures of Prometheus Overture signalled thoroughgoing excellence in the contribution of the CBSO to this concert.

BBC Proms: The Cardinall’s Musick

When he was skilfully negotiating the not inconsiderable complexities, upheavals and strife of musical and religious life at the English royal court during the Reformation, Thomas Tallis (c.1505-85) could hardly have imagined that more than 450 years later people would be queuing round the block for the opportunity spend their lunch-hour listening to the music that he composed in service of his God and his monarch.

Oberon, Persephone and Iolanta at the Aix Festival

Two of the important late twentieth century stage directors, Robert Carsen and Peter Sellars, returned to the Aix Festival this summer. Carsen’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a masterpiece, Sellars’ strange Tchaikovsky/Stravinsky double bill is simply bizarre.

Betrothal and Betrayal : JPYA at the ROH

The annual celebration of young talent at the Royal Opera House is a magnificent showcase, and it was good to see such a healthy audience turnout.

Jenůfa Packs a Wallop at DMMO

There are few operas that can rival the visceral impact of a well-staged Jenůfa and Des Moines Metro Opera has emphatically delivered the goods.

Des Moines Fanciulla a Minnie-Triumph

The Girl of the Golden West (La Fanciulla del West) often gets eclipsed when compared to the rest of the mature Puccini canon.

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015

First Night of the BBC Proms 2015 with Sakari Oramo in exuberant form, pulling off William Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast with the theatrical flair it deserves.

Des Moines: A Whole Other Secret Garden

With its revelatory production of Rappaccini’s Daughter performed outdoors in the city’s refurbished Botanical Gardens, Des Moines Metro Opera has unlocked the gate to a mysterious, challenging landscape of musical delights.

Seductive Abduction in Iowa

Des Moines Metro Opera has quite a crowd-pleasing production of The Abduction from the Seraglio on its hands.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Garsington Opera

Even by Shakespeare’s standards A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of his earlier plays, boasts a particularly fantastical plot involving a bunch of aristocrats (the Athenian Court of Theseus), feuding gods and goddesses (Oberon and Titania), ‘Rude Mechanicals’ (Bottom, Quince et al) and assorted faeries and spirits (such as Puck).

Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde

What do we call Tristan und Isolde? That may seem a silly question. Tristan und Isolde, surely, and Tristan for short, although already we come to the exquisite difficulty, as Tristan and Isolde themselves partly seem (though do they only seem?) to recognise of that celebrated ‘und’.

Debussy: Pelléas et Mélisande

So this was it, the Pelléas which had apparently repelled critics and other members of the audience on the opening night. Perhaps that had been exaggeration; I avoided reading anything substantive — and still have yet to do so.

Richard Strauss: Arabella

I had last seen Arabella as part of the Munich Opera Festival’s Richard Strauss Week in 2008. It is not, I am afraid, my favourite Strauss opera; in fact, it is probably my least favourite. However, I am always willing to be convinced.

Carmen in Orange

Some time ago in San Francisco there was an Aida starring Luciano Pavarotti, now in Orange it was Carmen starring Jonas Kaufmann. No, not tenors in drag just great tenors whose names simply outshine the title roles.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

The Full Monteverdi: A Film by John la Bouchardière
23 Aug 2009

The Full Monteverdi: A Film by John la Bouchardière

Although the cutesy title sounds like something conjured up by a community college marketing intern working for a mid-sized city orchestra’s ticket office—where every concert featuring Wagner and Brahms gets the sobriquet “Teutonic Titans”—don’t be put off by the moniker. This film is a brilliant adaptation of Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals that is totally faithful to the composer’s music.

The Full Monteverdi: A Film by John la Bouchardière
A Music-Drama based on Claudio Monteverdi’s Fourth Book of Madrigals.

Featuring I Fagiolini: Anna Crookes, Carys Lane, sopranos; Clare Wilkinson, mezzo-soprano; Nicholas Mulroy, tenor; Matthew Brook, baritone; Giles Underwood, bass; and Robert Hollingworth, director. Actors: Pano Masti, Alan Mooney, Mark Denham, Katherine Peachey, Anna Skye, and Gina Peach. Written and Directed by John la Bouchardière.

Naxos 2.110224 [DVD]

$19.98  Click to buy

The development of opera in Italy is largely unthinkable without the madrigal. Although the madrigal was a highly sophisticated musico-poetic form featuring advanced harmonies and subtle texts of great literary value, it was, after all, a choral form meant for unstaged performance. Yet the dramatic power of the madrigal was such that monody—an early form of recitative--would eventually evolve from it. What director John la Bouchardière and the members of I Fagiolini have done is to demonstrate in a staged version the dramatic and rhetorical power of Monteverdi’s madrigals.

The Fourth Book of Madrigals for 6 voices (1603) is perhaps Monteverdi’s most famous book of madrigals because they were used by the composer to adumbrate the principles of the seconda prattica, that is, madrigals in which the composition of the music followed the lead of the rhetoric of the poetry. The Fourth Book is also notable for the high quality of the texts, consisting of poems by Giovanni Guarini (Il pastor fido) and Torquato Tasso among others. The 19 madrigals of the book share an emotional intensity expressive of the ebb and flow of a profound love. What the creators of this film have done is to pair each of the six singers with an actor and then to stage the performance as though it were six couples who coincidentally are having dinner at a contemporary restaurant. This allows each of the singers to have a dramatic foil, a person who is the object of the subjective text. This is a brilliant conceit and it works spectacularly well. What is even more remarkable is that this movie is a studio filming of the work that was originally performed live on stage. It is hard to imagine the concentration involved in performing highly chromatic madrigals with the performers not being in close proximity, and at time not even facing one other.

The film introduces a personalization of the intense emotional drama, alternating its focus among the various couples and even allowing for visual flashbacks as the music unfolds. Thus, we can be given the “back story” visually (for example, a past argument) as the couple in question grieves for a split up that is about to take place. Although they have no words to say, the task for the six actors is especially daunting as they must express the rhetorical and dramatic power of the madrigals utilizing only facial cues and body gestures and avoiding the overly melodramatic style of silent film acting.

Another aspect of this film that I found particularly satisfying is that a number of the madrigals are performed attacca. The elision of the performances of the madrigals heightens their poetic and dramatic unity, even when the texts of the madrigals are by different authors.

Madrigals of this sort were considered to be musica reservata, that is, music of extraordinary complexity and subtlety that was meant to be appreciated primarily by a highly educated and relatively small elite. As such, seconda prattica madrigals are often a tough go for the uninitiated and especially so for the typical college music appreciation student. This film makes explicit the drama that is inherent in the music and poetry and can, therefore, do a great deal to promote appreciation of Monteverdi’s madrigals.

The members of I Fagiolini sing with tremendous expressivity, flawless intonation, and amazing vocal technique. So convincing was their performance that it was not difficult at all to suspend disbelief at watching 21st century couples in a restaurant sing Italian madrigals while breaking up before the first course. This is a highly recommended DVD that should prove attractive to both opera lovers and early music devotees.

William E. Grim

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):