Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra 521.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The 450th birthday of Monteverdi was celebrated in the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s Anniversary Concert, with a performance of his Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Holy Virgin), on period instruments, conducted by Andrew Parrot.
While liturgical music is frequently formal and solemn, Monteverdi’s work features many intensely emotional and highly dramatic passages – not surprisingly, since Monteverdi was the greatest opera composer of his time. In this performance of the immensely demanding work, emotions, drama, solemnity and religious faith were all present.
There was no choir. Instead, the solo singers joined forces to substitute for a choir. The advantage of this procedure was perfect transparency, even in intricate polyphonic passages, and the possibility of enjoying the beauty of individual singers’ voices. On the other hand, the rich, full sound of a real choir was absent. Well, apparently one cannot have it both ways.
A fascinating duo of soprano and mezzo-soprano foreshadowed the bel canto style of later Italian opera. Likewise, the sonorous baritone’s “Audi coelum verba mea” (Hear, heaven, my words) with its perfectly rendered breakneck coloraturas was a veritable operatic interlude. So were occasional echo effects, proof of Monteverdi’s sense of humor, even in a liturgical context.
After considerable exciting instrumental and vocal turbulence, the delicate “Duo Seraphim” (Two Seraphs) came as a calming conclusion.
This ambitious undertaking of the JBO’s Season Opening concert makes one hope that it will maintain this high level of performance throughout the season.