We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Thursday, October 26, 2017


Ryan Brown, Elizabeth Field, Liv Redpath, Lea Desandre, Kristen Dubenion-Smith, Patrick Kilbride, Alex Rosen, Thomas Dunford Jean Rondeau, and Beiliang Zhu (photo by Louis Forget)

We always look forward to visits from Opera Lafayette.  One can count on them to bring stellar musicians to perform in stimulating and unusual programs-- with the added bonus of an introductory lecture.  Last night at City University of New York's Elabash Recital Hall (an excellent venue), we heard a fine lecture on Claudio Monteverdi by Columbia University professor Giuseppe Gerbino, who put into academic words something we have written about frequently.

We are referring to the union of text and music, something which very few contemporary composers seem to grasp. Each language has acoustic properties and a rhythm. In Monteverdi's case, his music imitated the content and expressiveness of Italian, which is of course an easier language to set than English! This becomes both semantic and emotional. In simple words, the language of the text is enhanced by music.

Monteverdi's music bridged the orthodox polyphony of the 16th c. Renaissance period with the up and coming Baroque period of the 17th c. He was truly a pioneer and his 1609  Orfeo can be considered the first opera. He is mostly remembered for that and for the subsequent operas Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria and L'incoronazione di Poppea.

Perhaps someday the music for L'Ariana will be discovered in someone's ancient library but, at present, all we have left from that opera is "Lamento d'Ariana"  which was superbly sung by mezzo-soprano Lea Desandre.  Poor Ariana goes through a succession of emotions and Monteverdi's music limned every one from pleading for Teseo's return to anger to self-pity.

Another astonishing work was the scene "Il combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda" in which the unwary Tancredi, sung by the terrific tenor Patrick Kilbride, battles his unrecognized Clorinda, sung by the superb soprano Liv Redpath. It is not until she is dying that the armor comes off and he recognizes her. If this did not move you, nothing would! The work was staged which added to the effect. Jean Rondeau's organ raised the stakes even higher.

The lovely Ms. Redpath showed her vulnerable side in "Lamento della ninfa" with three male voices (Mr. Kilbride, baritone David Newman, and bass Alex Rosen) serving as a Greek chorus commenting on her fate. The performance of Guest Musical Director Thomas Dunford on the archlute was particularly fine here, adding to the sonorities. The archlute is a magnificent instrument that looks somewhat like a theorbo but please don't ask us to explain the difference!

Ms. Redpath and Ms. Desandre created stunning harmonies in the duet "O come sei gentile caro augellino" with ear tickling birdsong. The same pair delighted with "Ohime dov'e il mio ben". Both duets came from Monteverdi's Seventh Book of Madrigals.

The pieces for tutti were similarly remarkable. A setting of Petrarch's "Hor che'l ciel" began on one tone and expressed the peace and silence of nature.  As the poet describes his warlike nature, Monteverdi's writing becomes agitated and complex.

Other participants who added so much to the musical texture were alto Kristen Dubenion-Smith, the violins of Artistic Director Ryan Brown and Elizabeth Field, violist Paul Miller, cellist Beiliang Zhu, and bassist Doug Balliett.

We left the concert with a renewed appreciation for this titan who broke the rules and brought music to a higher level. We wish more of his music had survived the centuries.

(c) meche kroop


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