Opera: Passion, Power and Politics & Monteverdi Trilogy

 Opera: Passion, Power and Politics
Highlights from the Monteverdi Trilogy
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists
Victoria & Albert Museum. 15 December 2017

As part of the V&A’s Opera: Passion, Power and Politics exhibition, the Monteverdi Choir returned to the site of their very first concert, 50 years ago in the museum’s Raphael Cartoon gallery to conclude their 2017 tour of Monteverdi’s three operas with a concert of extracts from all three. In the tradition of the V&A’s ‘Friday Lates’, they started at 6.30 with a series of Promenade Performances given in different galleries of the museum, starting with the L’Orfeo Overture performed from the gallery of the Grand Entrance before moving to the adjoining Medieval & Renaissance galleries for Duo seraphim, performed from the three projecting balconies. The audience was then shepherded through the massive Hertogenbosch choir screen for from two extracts from Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, a flash-mob style Coro di Feaci and Ulysses’s Dormo ancora sung by Furio Zanasi in the Renaissance chapel originally in Florence’s Santa Chiara church. Continue reading

Festival d’Ambronay

Festival d’Ambronay
28 September to 1 October 2017

Since 1980, when it was founded, the Ambronay Festival has been a key part of the early music world. In recent years, the activities of the Ambronay Cultural Encounter Centre (based in the former Abbey buildings adjoining the magnificent Romanesque Abbey church) have expanded, and now includes impressive provision for young musicians. For the past couple of years, Ambronay has been part of the European Union supported eeemerging project (Emerging European Ensembles), an EU-wide cooperation project dedicated to the selection, training and promotion of young early music ensembles. The last of the four long weekends of the annual Ambronay Festival (which runs annually from mid-September to early October) is devoted to these eeemerging ensembles, but several of them also performed in the previous three weekends of the Festival. The theme for this year’s Festival was ‘Vibrations: Souffle’, roughly translating as Vibrations: Breathing, part of a triptych of festivals under the same Vibrations theme.

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I attended the penultimate weekend of the Festival, from Thursday 28 September to Sunday 1 October 2017. The first two day’s concerts took place in Lyon, about 60km south-west of Ambronay.
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BBC Proms: Berlioz Faust

Berlioz: The Damnation of Faust
Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
Monteverdi Choir, National Youth Choir of Scotland, Trinity Boys Choir
BBC Prom 31: Royal Albert Hall. 8 August 2017

Whoever thought of turning Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust into a staged opera seems, to me, to be missing the point. Quite apart from the extraordinary challenge of depicting the dramatic scenes on stage, the sheer drama of which would distract from what the music and the libretto is telling us, it is clear that Berlioz intended this as music to be listened to, not watched. That said, there was plenty to see in this Proms performance given by the period instruments of the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique together with the Monteverdi Choir, the National Youth Choir of Scotland, and Trinity Boys Choir, directed by John Eliot Gardiner. Continue reading

Bach: St Matthew Passion

Bach: St Matthew Passion
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, James Gilchrist, Kati Debretzeni,John Eliot Gardiner
Soli Deo Gloria SDG725. 2CDs. 2h40′

Some 28 years after their famed 1988 Archiv recording (made under studio conditions in Snape Maltings), the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists return to the St. Matthew Passion. This extraordinary piece can evoke enormous emotional responses, regardless of the religious views of the listener. I vividly remember taking my young daughter to a performance of their 1988 Matthew, sitting in the front row, and watching the bass player just a few yards away gently shedding tears as she played. For this version, on their own label, they opt for a live recording, made in Pisa Cathedral during the Anima Mundi Festival as the culmination of a six-month tour.  Continue reading

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice

Gluck: Orphée et Eurydice
Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner
Royal Opera House, 24 September 2015

With the Royal Opera House home team playing away in China, the field was open for a take over by the period instrument brigade. Although the house band of the ROH (and other opera venues) have been getting better at adopting suitable ‘period’ performance techniques in recent years, I have suggested many times over the years that they bring in a specialist orchestra for their ‘early music’ productions. On this occasion there was a more-or-less complete take-over by the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, together with the Hofesh Shechter Company of dancers. The directors were Hofesh Shechter and the ROH’s own John Fulljames, and the conductor was John Eliot Gardiner. This was part of the Royal Opera House’s recent focus on the Orpheus myth that started with their Roundhouse production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo last February (reviewed elsewhere on this site). Continue reading

Proms: Monteverdi Orfeo

Proms: Monteverdi Orfeo
Monteverdi Choir & English Baroque Soloists
Royal Albert Hall. 4 August 2015

The 2015 Proms run until September 12For the second time this year, London sees Monteverdi’s Orfeo performed in a large circular space. After the Royal Opera House / Early Opera Company production in the Roundhouse early this year (review here) we now had the Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists in the vast space of the Royal Albert Hall in front of a packed audience of well over 5000 people.

For a work that was probably first performed in a space that in its entirety (including performers and audience) would have fitted onto the front part of the RAH stage, there are obvious issues of presentation. For this rather more than semi-staged performance, John Eliot Gardiner placed his 32 instrumentalist right and left of a central triangular area, the continuo group divided between the two sides with harpsichords and organ at the front of the two sides and pairs of chittarones on either side. The strings were to the left, the woodwind to the right, with the cornetts/trumpets and sackbuts on the top of the stage steps, just below the bust of Sir Henry Wood. The soloists were drawn from the 4o-strong choir, which tumbled onto the stage during the Toccata led by a jovial chap who looked as though he had been given a frame drum for Christmas, but hadn’t got round to reading the instruction manual, consequently beating it mercilessly with his fist. The youthful chorus of Nymphs and Shepherds (men in casual black, women in bright block colours) bounced around to the merciless thump of the drum and rattle of a tambourine. The two very professional-looking dancers who took over the front stage turned out to be the key soloists Mariana Flores and Francesca Aspromonte (Eurydice and Musica who, in a nice twist, also sang the role of the Messenger). Continue reading