The Deadly Arts of War, the Pains and Perils of Love

United StatesUnited States  Monteverdi, Kapsberger, Peri, Vitali, Caccini and Merula: Cincinnati Opera, Evans Mirageas (Artistic Director), Catacoustic Consort, Annalisa Pappano (Artistic Director), First Lutheran Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. 21.6.2014 (RDA)

 Monteverdi: Madrigali guerrieri e amorosi (selections), Orfeo (selections), Seventh Book of Madrigals (selections)

Instrumental and vocal selections by Kapsberger, Peri, Vitali, Caccini and Merula

Alexandra Schoeny, soprano; Michael Maniacci, soprano; Sumner Thompson,  tenor; Aaron Blake, tenor; Nathan Stark, bass; Elizabeth Motter, harp; Annalisa Pappano, viola da gamba and lirone; Mark Skuldiner, harpsichord; David Walker, lute and chitarrone; Jim Hopkins, actor; Zach Schute, actor.


Before his death in 1643, Claudio Monteverdi composed nine books of madrigals for mixed voices. One published posthumously was the Madrigali guerrieri e amorosi, most often titled Madrigals of Love and War.

When dealing with the texts of sonnets by Petrarch, Tasso, Rinuccini and Strozzi, written in majestic alexandrines, and rife with opportunities for the composer, Monteverdi rises to the challenge with flying colors. Along with his great opera, Orfeo, all nine collections contain some of his highest achievements as a composer of vocal music. Monteverdi’s cycles, one of which was dedicated to the warring Spanish King Ferdinand, “The Catholic,” often sing the praises of both Venus and Mars, frequently moving imperceptibly into musical and textual metaphors that link the deadly arts of war to the pains and perils of love.

 The songs and arias, written in the second practice style that freely mixed polyphony and the new writing for solo voice, embody Monteverdi’s penchant for setting words to expressive music that pays homage both to their meaning and to the poetic implications contained in them.

 All of the singers and instrumentalists involved in The Songs of Love and War performed brilliantly. Nathan Stark’s ample bass plumbed the depths of his low register, providing the anchor for the filigree work required from the other singers. The very fine soprano Alexandra Schoeny sensitively sang Jacopo Peri’s Se tu parti da me, choosing a bright vibrato-less tone—so correct for this music—and later joining her colleagues in Lamento della Ninfa, a trio in which the male voices provide a narrative musical backdrop to the soprano’s pianissimo utterances, effectively turning a three-part madrigal into a riveting drama per musica.

 Monteverdi’s vocal music is at times stasis itself—eerie and mysterious. But in the trio for two tenors and bass, Gira il nemico insidioso amor (Love, that insidious enemy, hovers), the voices of the rock-solid Stark and two superb tenors, Aaron Blake and Sumner Thompson, intertwined, all but colliding as if to avoid in a moment of panic, a conflagration that threatens to consume all living and loving beings.

 Blake, an impressively-gifted tenor, comfortably rode the high-lying tessitura that Monteverdi so often wrote for the top line of his ensembles. Blake and Thompson also portrayed two randy males humorously pleading for the return of their paramours’ much missed caresses. Thompson appeared as an ideal Orfeo, poignantly singing the ethereal hymn to love Rosa del ciel, and later the lament, Tu sei morta.

Michael Maniacci, a pure-voiced male soprano inhabited the spirit and style of this music to utter perfection, first hauntingly singing Caccini’s Amarilli with a legato that made one wonder whether or not this remarkable singer ever takes breaths. He flawlessly and fittingly utilized the one-note trillo that is required of singers ofearly Italian Baroque music, and in Tarquinio Merula’s Hor ch’e tempo di dormire, movingly expressed Mary’s haunted vision of her son’s passion, ultimately settling into a profound and peaceful acceptance of the inevitable.

 Under the indispensable leadership of the group’s founding director, Annalisa Pappano, the formidable musicians of Catacoustic Consort accompanied the voices, and performed two instrumental ensembles using viola da gamba, harpsichord, baroque harp, chitarrone and lirone, following the same performance practice that musicians of the Italian Seicento employed, freely improvising many of their accompaniments andexecuting the ornamentation that this sparsely notated music demands.

 The evening was enriched by the poetry of Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Alfred Lichtenstein, Siegfried Sasoon, Robert Graves, May Weddeburn Cannan and Ivor Gurney, read by Zach Schute and Jim Hopkins. The texts of these poets speak both of the horrors visited on the civilized world in times of war, and of the healing that love and art provides to both winners and losers, victims and survivors.

Rafael de Acha

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