Monteverdi, Péchés Capitaux


Vices, virtues and passions in Claudio Monteverdi's music

A concert that digs deep into the violent and conflicting human emotions. The amorous torments of the madrigals, the pure nobility of Orfeo, the Vespers’ innovative style, the chastity of Ulysses and the total lack of morality of Poppea: how can they all cohabit in the soul of one man? The allegory of the Seven Deadly Sins and the Seven Virtues will guide us in the hearts and minds of the 17th century. The Seven Deadly Sins, as listed by Pope Gregory (c. 540-604) and mentioned by St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), have played a vital role in the imagination of artists, such as Dante and Leonardo da Vinci; at Palazzo Ducale, in Venice, they are represented on the capitals of the Museo dell'Opera. Monteverdi certainly lived his life among these daily contradictions, but, as no one else, was able to transcend and sublimate the human passions into music.


"Speranza, tu mi vai" from L'incoronazione di Poppea
"Sí dolce è'l tormento" from Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze
"Chi parla?" from L'incoronazione di Poppea"

Compagni, udiste?" from Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria"
Ardo e scoprir, ahí lasso" from Madrigals, Book VIII
"Son risoluto insomma" from L'incoronazione di Poppea
Hor che Seneca è morto from L'incoronazione di Poppea
"O ciechi chiechi" from Selva morale e spirituale
"Pastor d'armenti puo" from Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria
"Imparate mortali" from Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria"

Sí ch’io vorrei morire" from Madrigals, Book IV
"Orfeo son io" from L'Orfeo
"Vattene pur crudel" from Madrigals, Book III

"Altri canti d'amore" from Madrigals, Book VIII

Carnegie Hall
New York, New York
February 18, 2017 (Review)

Candles weaving in front of the instrumentalists and a beautiful honey-colored harp stage center heightened expectations in Zankel Hall. A lovely solo soprano voice from the rear of the hall turned heads, which then relaxed forward to hear the beautiful textures surrounding us.
Soprano Francesca Aspromonte moved to the front row of the hall and stepped onto the stage to sing and enact a scene from L'Incoronazione di Poppea. In it she is warned that Emperor Nero’s wife has discovered the love affair of Nero with Poppea and her life may be at risk. The serpent lies in the most beautiful of meadows. We are in a state of wanting, wanting Poppea to save herself. Wanting also to hear this music continue.
In the years before opera was officially declared an art form, Claudio Monteverdi wrote L'Incoronazione di Poppea. Sex, violence, treachery, betrayal and the triumph of a wicked woman are all the meat of 1st century Rome and perfect material for the new musical form. Shakespeare makes this brew work. Monteverdi and his librettist do too.
Scenes from L'Incoronazione are interwoven with intrigue, betrayal, confidences shared and political shenanigans from other operas and other composers.
A delicious aria from Quarto bemoans the fate of a love is sung by Anna Reinhold.   We are then back in Poppea, where two soldiers argue as they guard the Emperor and worry about his weeping wife and the new love. Migran Agadzhanyan and Pierre-Antoine Chaumen walk their walk, moving recitative into music and back.
A beautiful aria from Monteverdi’s Orfeo and a scene from his Return of Ulysses are followed Madrigals drawn from Monteverdi’s work books used for the span of his composing life.
Return of Ulysses again suggests the anguish of Ulysses wandering the world for a decade and the suitors who court his wife, the faithful Penelope. Those who have borne witness to assault on Penelope are fearful of the return of her husband. Raffaele Pe a glorious counter tenor and Renaud Delalgue, bass, are added to form a richly diverse quartet.
Other composers' work adds to the overall theme of morality in areas of life from the very private to the larger governance.
Leonardo García Alarcón, the artistic director of the group, working with Olivier Lexa, the director, created the perfect rhythm and drama for a concert staging.
Monteverdi strove to capture the world as it is. He does this in text, but also in music that arrests. Not only is it beautiful, it is full of emotional nuance. Singers of the Cappella Mediterraneo capture the spirit, weaving from embrace to stab with seeming ease.
The chamber orchestra, prominently featuring harp and cello, weaves its music with the singers as the composer intended. We have thick layers of meaning, vocal music and instrumental combined in a rich brew.
It was an exceptional evening of music from the 17th century that is very live and relevant today in its depiction of moral quandaries and the advancement of self interest.  The performane was excellent at all levels. The long solo embellishments, the ensemble singing, and the orchestra balance could not be better.

Carnegie Hall , (Review)

"Wagner, who certainly knew the operas of Claudio Monteverdi, was referring in this case to Don Giovanni. But he could well have referred to the greatest revolutionary in music, Claudio Monteverdi. A revolutionary in jumping over the cloister walls of Church music, escaping obsequiousness towards Royals (though last night he did pay homage to Emperor Ferdinand III) and, in his own words, “building music upon truth.”

Except that “truth” has manifold faces. And when I told a friend last night that I was “emotionally drained” by the Cappella Mediterranea performance of Monteverdi, it was only later that I realized my emotions ran the gamut of all human feelings.

What Music/Artistic Leonardo García Alarcón accomplished had the same audacity as Monteverdi himself in his “Third Practice” toward the end of his life. Maestro Alarcón turned a dozen-odd madrigals, arias, “sung recitatives” and choruses into a kind of opera whose storyline was not a story. It was an opera of Monteverdi emotions.
His seven wondrous singers–with a small ensemble of violins, theorbos, archlute, harp, viola de gamba, harpsichord and organ–entered and exited during each other’s performances. They simulated sexual desire, the desolation of death, the terror of war, the joy of love, and the fun of drunkenness.

None of it parodistic, all with that sense of truth, and the admiration for words which Monteverdi needed so well.

When the four men showed fear and agony as the envious suitors in The Return of Ulysses, their own moods simulated their emotions. When soprano Francesca Aspromonte gives the words that jewels mean nothing compared to inevitable death, one felt Monteverdi’s own innate–and so profound–feelings. One wonders why Igor Stravinsky admired Monteverdi so much. The Russian composer affirmed that music could offer no feelings outside of music itself. Monteverdi knew that feelings could be accentuated, tuned, brought to the fore with music. Monteverdi, long before Mozart and his librettist Lorenzo da Ponte, used the finest poetry of the late Renaissance, molding the words to bring forth the artist’s formulation of humanity. And while he used the characters of mythology and ancient history, he gave those legends the same reality which Euripides gave to is own dramatic personality of gods and goddesses.

Of course, if some of this singing was “over the top” in our terms, it was simply a way of showing out own moods if those moods were created by a great artists. We can look at the overweening closeups of Eisenstein and Hollywood’s Silent Era, and they can still affect us.
So this artificial opera went through all those emotions. We started with the glorious Ms. Aspromonte in the aria of passion and fear from Poppea (which will be performed in full next Tuesday) followed by a typical piece of torment and love sung Anna Reinhold.

And next came a Monteverdi specialty. What would have been a simple recitative with harpsichord from Poppea became in “Chi parla”, a virtual song, the two tenors giving information, with underlying emotions. This, in Director Alarcón’s “script” was like the knocking at the game in Macbeth, a humorous mood. The same humor as the drunken shepherd in “Pastor d’armenti” from Ulysses.

This was not your bucolic shepherd from the usual 16th Century theater. Tenor Migran Agadzhanyan, bottle in hand, lurched across the stage, singing and almost burping.
While all the singers were worthy of notice, one must give special credit to Bass Renaud Delaigue for a beautiful solo in the madrigal “Vattene pur, crudel”.
And also to the Cappella Mediterranea consort. We simply don’t know the size of the forces for Monteverdi’s late operas, though they are reputed to be quite large for the time. Mr. Alarcón had an orchestra which was relatively small, but so transparent that one realized how instinctively brilliant Monteverdi was.
In fact, one realized last night that there is no way of “fixing” Monteverdi. Carl Orff’s transcription of Poppea is one of the horrors of the Nazi musical era. He took those so sensitive tones and turned them into Nuremberg Rally fanfares.
Monteverdi didn’t need that. Even five centuries later, his music sings for itself, it still moves us in every possible way. Yes, there was artifice in the Capella Meditteranea singing and playing. The stage direction of Olivier Lexa was artifice, but it still mesmerized us and kept us speculating on what next was to erupt on stage. But such artifice was simply the license of the theater.
And Monteverdi, was we heard last night, had the sheer theatrical and musical greatness of a Verdi, a Puccini, a Berg. Cappella Mediterranea was musically adept, yes. But this was splendor which gave no conept of age, which pierced the emotional events of our own manic present time.