Monteverdi String Band

The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble

Wed 8 Nov

The Old Market

Rory Carver tenor Orfeo
Jenni Harper soprano Musica, Speranza, Euridice
Helen Charlston mezzo soprano Messaggera, Proserpina
Benedict Hymas tenor Pastore, Apollo, Spirito del coro
Dominic Bevan tenor Pastore, Eco, Spirito del coro
Richard Moore bass Caronte
Andrew Robinson baritone Plutone, Pastore, Spirito del coro

Monteverdi String Band
Oliver Webber leader

The English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble

Aileen Henry harp
James Bramley chitarrone
Claire Williams harpsichord, organ

Deborah Roberts musical director 
Thomas Guthrie director 

Monteverdi’s first opera premiered in 1607, is on love, death and loss was based on a story from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, with its roots in ancient mythology.  Monteverdi managed to get this opera right and is often credited with inventing modern opera- although not true-  the term Opera itself wasn’t even used until the mid-17th century, he did manage to deliver  music, singing, stagecraft and emotional heft & chaos of the story in an entertaining way. Although with some philosophy as was the way of the time and this stuck and  has allowed us, 400 years later  to enjoy this earliest of styles of Opera. This new production by Thomas Guthrie features a young cast of emerging soloists.

Not the most engaging piece of early opera, although the light touch setting of late 20th century wedding, picnic and after party worked well,  presenting the wedding and subsequent actions amongst  group of hipster friends with a touch of Mod v Rockers shoehorned in for extra affect. Costume and set were minimal and modern, supplemented by some imaginative projections and shadowy lighting which allowed the music & singing to shine. It’s a ‘park & bark’ piece of composition but Director  Guthrie allowed some slow and subtle chorography to embellish the action. Although it never quite reached beyond a M&S picnic up into mythological mists of nymphs and satyrs.

Pluto was played with rich rolling toned relish by Andrew Robinson, Eurydice’s simplicity and beauty came across with the tone perfect diction and polished singing of Jenni Harper. Orfeo himself was given the narrative oomph needed by Rory Carver and his lyrical tenor carried the action and conveyed the connection, desperation and ultimate apotheosis well. Richard Moore’s Caronte (Charon) sung and acted with menace and poise with his profound bass but was served no favours by his huge comedy beard.

Monteverdi String Band with Oliver Webber as leader showed us the refined and careful progressions of this music while allowing its simplicity and harmonic structure to dominate, along with the English Cornett & Sackbut Ensemble who brought these most difficult of instruments to vivid life. It’s always such a joy to be in the presence of a qualified sackbut player and tonight we had a pair of extraordinary players.  Musical director Deborah Roberts allowed the sometimes moody instruments to shine in this evening’s performance giving us the apparently pure and simple melodies whist exposing the modulations in a fresh, honest way and it was an added treat to be so close to the instruments. The opening trumpets and trombones used for the ceremonial Toccata were superb.

The plot is exasperating to a 21st Century audience, it seems insipid and slightly daft and left me wondering if the original ( all male)  audience would have been satisfied with such pedestrian storytelling from the classics, but my own musings aside this was an engaging evening of refined music and singing performed with commitment by these talented singers and musicians,

Once again the Brighton Early Music Festival shows that you can take problematic and difficult pieces of early music and when stripped down and presented with care and consideration they can be allowed to shine and be appreciated for their own idiosyncratic, early charms.

Two more performances 11th & 12th November, book now!

For full details of this performance or to book tickets for further events see the BREMF website here.


About the Author

Related Posts