An unforgettable première of Monteverdi's Vespers,
reviewed by LAWRENCE BUDMEN
Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was one of music's creative giants. Generally acknowledged as the father of modern opera, Monteverdi broke new ground in music drama. His Orfeo, Coronation of Poppea, and Return of Ulysses are still astounding in their direct, powerful dramatic utterance. This Italian genius changed liturgical music forever in 1610 with his Vespers of the Blessed Virgin. The genesis of the great sacred works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, and even Verdi are found in this remarkable composition. If Monteverdi did not invent Baroque polyphony, he certainly took it to new heights in this singular masterpiece. The Vespers received its belated Florida première on 7 October 2005 at First United Methodist Church of Coral Gables, USA when Patrick Dupre Quigley conducted Seraphic Fire -- Miami's professional chamber choir -- in a stunning recreation of the score's early performances in the palaces and chapels of princes.
Monteverdi lived on the cusp of the Renaissance and Baroque eras and his music effortlessly makes that artistic journey. Since the composer did not leave any instrumental score, artistic choices are very much in the conductor's hands. In one of the score's first significant recordings, the legendary Leopold Stokowski led a 70 piece orchestra and massive choruses. Such early music specialists as Christopher Hogwood and Martin Pearlman (of Boston Baroque) have offered versions with 20-30 voices and chamber orchestral forces.
In a pre-performance interview, Patrick Quigley referred to his edition as 'the underground version'. Fielding a thirteen voice choir and only lute and organ for instrumental continuo, Quigley led a performance of tremendous vitality and authority. In just three seasons Quigley, a scrupulous Baroque stylist, has built a nimble, high precision ensemble. He has recruited first rate singers from across the United States for his ambitious projects. The musical results he achieves are world class.
Patrick Dupré Quigley
Quigley turned the hushed opening Domine ad adjuvandum into a mystical exhortation. Chants and madrigal singing run through Monteverdi's mesmerizing aural tapestry. The angelic sound of the female voices in the Dixit Dominus was magical. The rising soprano voices of the Laudate pueri were the sounds of heavenly exultation. The double choir madrigal of the Nisi Dominus alternated between joyous exhilaration and solemn reverence.
Copyright © 5 November 2005
Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA