Posts Tagged ‘Monteverdi’

Review – La Venexiana – 2010 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music

May 18, 2010

Note: this concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 at 7pm 1 June. Don’t miss it!

For the last two years I’ve been excited to attend the Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music in London’s St. John’s Smith Square. In Seattle, I used to see a Baroque (or Renaissance, or Medieval) concert about 10 times a year, and after nearly two years of no early music, I was excited to find a banquet at which I could fill my plate over and over again, if only for two weeks’ time. I chose five concerts from this year’s offering (twelve concerts in total) – buying them in February – then settled down to wait.

The festival started in spectacular style with La Venexiana, whom I’m pretty sure I’ve seen before. They performed Monteverdi’s “Vespers of 1610,” a lovely collection of liturgical music written apparently over several years. The texts of the Vespers felt like a very Renaissance mix of sacred and secular: several psalms, “Ave maris stella,” but also some florid selections from the Song of Solomon that sounded very much like love songs (“While the king lay upon his bed, my perfume gave off an odor of sweetness”) and not particularly religious.

The evening opened with an incredible wall of sound: eleven singers and seventeen musicians with crystal-clear projection and tonal perfection nearly blew me out of my chair. Whew! This was some church music! I felt very much in the hands of a master! This feeling was further emphasized by the intense conducting style of Claudio Cavina, who seemed like nothing so much as a puppet master pulling every single singer’s string in a way I found kind of creepy (visions of abusive rehearsals and people debasing themselves to get in his favor kept bubbling up in my head). But there was no denying the results; each singer was perfection. In fact, one of the men singing tenor had this incredible breathy kind of breaks in his solos that reminded me of some movies I’ve seen set in this era – in some ways just over the top, but really done to perfection and incredibly well matched to the music. It may have been a “style” but it sounded great. I’ve got notes in my program for “Laudate pueri” and “Due Seraphim” noting how good the tenors were (quote: “goosebumps”); and they did just hit it again and again. “Nigra sum sed formosa” (I am black but beautiful) was heartbreakingly beautiful. If this is what having a control freak does to a choral group, I’m afraid to say I probably approve, though it seems a bit like saying yes to veal or foie gras.

I could probably add to this many notes on what an amazing composer Monteverdi is, how his “Audi coelum” was filled with longing, his “Pulchra es” passionate, his “Dixit dominus” captured the babbling brook in “de torrente.” But this is no surprise. Monteverdi is great, and his choral music exquisite; I feel lucky to have attended this show.

Next: Friday the 14th’s show of La Risonanza and Paolo Pandolfo – but as I’ve seen another concert tonight clearly I must get this published or I will get too, too far behind!

(This review is for a show that took place on Thursday, May 13th, 2010. The 2010 Lufthansa Festival of Baroque Music continues through May 22nd.)

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Review – Carissimi’s “Jephte,” Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” and Monteverdi’s “Orfeo” – English Touring Opera at the Theatre Royal, Bath

December 3, 2006

We’re back from our weekend in Bath. I’m really tired, probably from swimming around in the pool on the roof of the Thermae spa. It was neat – cold rain came down on us while we were in the warm water, looking at the green hills and church spires through the spattered glass walls.

We stayed at Elgin Villa in an overly large room (a queen and two extra singles, wish we’d brought some more people!) quite close to the center of town, slept 9 hours both nights, went to some lovely CAMRA listed pubs (the Volunteer Rifleman’s Arms and The Raven), saw two nights of Baroque Opera at the Theater Royal Bath, hit the Christmas market over and over again (couldn’t get away from it, really, since it was also Smack Dab in the Middle of Town), bought some books (ooh, I held out for a month!), looked at costumes, and generally Frittered Our Time (and Money) Away. And we bought cheese, because Bath has an awesome cheesemonger’s shop but also a stand selling Bath Soft Cheeses.

Our first night we decided to see if we could get tickets to see the English Touring Opera’s performance for the night (Carissimi’s Jephte and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. We were lucky and got the 5 pound bench seats in the back – and the performance was quite sold out! The music was very good, but there was no set to speak of for either show, and the performers seemed to have forgotten that they could actually act while they sang, if they chose to. But for the price, we had no complaints, and figured the next night, with Monteverdi’s Orfeo, would make up for it.

Alas, this was not the case; though Orfeo had MORE of a set, the stage direction was atrocious! It was, in fact, so bad that it DISTRACTED from the action on the stage. Lovely quartet? How about having Orpheus have sex under a blanket while we’re listening to the people sing? Solo? How about having people get in a stick fight off on the side? We really just did not get what they were thinking, and, at the higher price we’d paid for these tickets, we felt quite annoyed. Come on, folks! It’s not like there aren’t people in this country who know how to direct! We were glad, though, we’d gone both nights, because if Saturday had been the “highlight” of our trip, I would have considered the weekend perhaps not all that well spent!

We rounded off our trip by going (on Sunday) to the spa. The Thermae Spas are not too expensive (20 pounds per person for two hours, but they make up for it with £2.50 towel rental, good gods!) and well-laid out, with a pool in the basement, four “aromatherapy” steam rooms (though the eucalyptus one smelt of cat box to me, ick), and the quite neat roof pool. However, the pools just weren’t warm enough for us, and I really wanted a proper jacuzzi. Still, we spent a very nice hour and a half chilling and soaking, and it was a nice end to our weekend.

(The performance of Jepthe and Dido and Aeneas too plake on December 1st, 2006, while Orfeo was December 2nd. This review copied from my old blog.)