Review: The Monteverdi Project

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Cape Consort The plot was nothing short of a modern day soap opera:  A man (a shepherd) falls in love with a girl (a nymph). Completely besotted, he acts like a fool. His friend can provide no comfort as he himself is having lady troubles. The shepherd loses track of his flock and must go in search of it, thereby leaving the nymph. The nymph is devastated and close to overdosing (on chocolates). And that’s just the start of the affairs and affections and heart ache.

This is the madrigal music of sixteenth century composer Claudio Monteverdi as performed by the Cape Consort at The Fugard Studio. The saying plus ça change, plus c’est pareil certainly rang true as the audience related remarkably easily to the love and peril of the characters. And the Cape Consort must be commended for making this late renaissance music so accessible to a twenty-first century audience.

The Cape Consort is an early music ensemble originally founded by Andrew Cruickshank (harpsichord) and Hans Huyssen (Baroque cello). The group specialises in ‘historically informed’ performances in a contemporary spirit on period instruments. The primary objective of the Monteverdi Project – Part I is to celebrate Monteverdi’s central role in the developing relationship between music and drama.

Claudio Monteverdi was the first great opera composer and his contribution to the madrigal music (a complex, polyphonic and, importantly, secular vocal composition) is said to have transformed this genre into the most expressive music of the sixteenth century. The success and continued popularity of his compositions can be attributed to his belief in the power of music to arouse feelings and emotions with the audience.

Monteverdi regarded music as the servant of words and he associated each emotional state or mood with a particular musical idea. Joy, he considered, is best expressed through the use of wide melodic intervals, while sadness is depicted by narrower and even chromatic intervals. The Cape Consort succeeded splendidly in conveying this diverse range of colour in Monteverdi’s madrigals.

The projection of the original text in a more understandable (and hip) idiom was very entertaining. Some complained that the projection and animation in the background was distracting, but many others enjoyed the playful translation and recognised all too well some of the laments of sixteenth century life. Men, it seems, did not listen then either. In fact their selective deafness back then was regarded as akin to that of a serpent. And hot babes also raved to tunes back in the day, albeit somewhat different tunes than those to which they rave today.

Yet, all is well that ends well and the lovesick characters of Monteverdi’s imagination celebrated the Arcadian world: where falling in love is at once the worst and the best thing that can happen, and where very little else ever does.

The Fugard Studio was the perfect venue for this performance and contributed to the warm and relaxed mood amongst the patrons.

Andra le Roux-Kemp

The Matrix of the Madrigal Monteverdi Live (The Monteverdi Project – Part I) was performed at The Fugard Theatre on 19 February 2012. 

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