La Riturnella: Cavalli, Monteverdi, Strozzi

La Riturnella
Cavalli, Monteverdi & Barbara Strozzi
Musica Antica Rotherhithe, Oliver Doyle
Live-streamed from the Sands Films Music Room, 21 February 2020
Available on-line

In their online performance, La Riturnella, Musica Antica Rotherhithe concentrate on three generations of Italian Baroque composers – Claudio Monteverdi, Francesco Cavalli, and Barbara Strozzi. All three are related through teacher-pupil relationships, with Monteverdi teaching Cavalli who, in turn, taught Strozzi. The imaginative programme also featured a piece by Girolamo Kapsberger and some folk songs of the period from Calabria in the far south of Italy, arranged by soprano Camilla Seale. The socially distanced performance was broadcast live from the attractive little Sands Films Music Room, located in a former granary in Rotherhithe, on the south bank of the Thames, just east of the City of London.

Until the 1850s, Cavalli’s scores remained hidden in a private mansion near Venice with its own theatre. The atmosphere of the theatre-like Sands Films Music Room could well have matched that theatre in size and style and made a perfect backdrop to the music. This performance also celebrated the release of a new volume of ‘Arias, Duets and Ensembles from the operas of Francesco Cavalli’, edited by Musica Antica director Oliver Doyle, and made available to download free through the Cavalli Foundation. The concert can be viewed via the Sands Films website here. Donations are welcome here.

The key singer was soprano Camilla Seale, with her attractively unforced voice and a gentle vibrato that did not unduly interfere with intonation. Countertenor Tristram Cooke stood in at short notice to replace Jessica Eucker, taking on the rather unlikely role of Helen of Troy! The instruments were two violins, gamba/lirone, theorbo, and harpsichord. One of the highlights was Kapsberger’s Figlio, Dormi sung by Camila Seale with Peter Martin providing delicate accompaniment on the theorbo. Cavalli’s Misero cosi va (from Eliogabalo) tells of an emperor who dressed as a woman to seduce his praetorian guards, and was introduced as an “absolute banger”. They finished with the famed Pur ti Miro from Monteverdi’s La Coronazione di Poppea – a piece that is almost certainly not by Monteverdi. The Naples copy, one of just two, is in the hand of Cavalli’s wife.

This pleasingly informal occasion was very obviously broadcast live rather than a pre-recorded and edited concert. You need to scroll through about 9’30 to get the start, where you will hear the musicians audibly waiting for the ‘red-light’ indication with a whispered: “I hate this bit”. There is another interjection at the end, with an audibly relieved “There you have it” from one of the singers. At the end of pieces, there are often giggles and other signs of relief that would be edited out of a pre-prepared recording and would certainly not happen in a live concert with an audience. Oliver Doyle’s verbal introductions have frequent interjections from the other musicians, correcting or enlightening him. Although these aspects may be considered rather unprofessional for a live concert, I forgave and rather liked this endearingly relaxed approach. These are musicians who have probably not performed for a year, so letting us share the atmosphere seems appropriate. But I would suggest that future such events are pre-recorded and edited before broadcast.

Francesco Cavalli (1602 – 1676): Prologue to L’Ormindo
Barbara Strozzi (1619 – 1677): Lagrime Mie
Girolamo Kapsberger (1580 – 1651): Figlio, Dormi
Cavalli: Sinfonia from Ercole Amante; Ecco l’Idolo Mio from L’Elena (1659)
Claudio Monteverdi (1567 – 1643): Sinfonia from L’Orfeo
Cavalli: Mia Speranza from L’Elena; Misero cosi va, from Eliogabalo
Traditional Calabrian folk songs, arr Camilla Seale: La Riturnella​; Tarantella del Gargano
(not) Monteverdi: Pur ti Miro from La Coronazione di Poppea.