November 11, 2006 – Review

On love and war, Monteverdi madrigals soar

By John von Rhein

November 12 2006, 2:40 PM CST

Claudio Monteverdi, the innovative master of the early Italian Baroque, knew more about the conflict of love and war — make that love as war {ndash} than most of today’s rock balladeers. The themes combine in his eighth book of madrigals (“Madrigali guerrieri et amorosi”), a wondrous set of lyric gems published in Venice in 1638.

Those madrigals formed the basis of a stimulating collaboration between the period instrument group Ars Antigua and the vocal ensemble the Oriana Singers Saturday afternoon at Quigley Chapel. The concert was presented in collaboration with the Chicago Humanities Festival.

Monteverdi often treats love and war as indivisible metaphors in the carnal pas de deux between men and women, as in “Gira il nemico insidioso Amore” (“The enemy, insidious love”), where losing one’s heart is likened to surrendering the weak rampart of one’s castle.

No less striking was “Lamento della Ninfa,” in which the dulcet-voiced soprano Laura Lynch, representing a nymph abandoned by a faithless lover, was supported by continuo instruments while a trio of male voices commented sympathetically on her plight. Monteverdi typically catches the ear with piquant dissonances and abrupt harmonic shifts that mirror the sudden emotional shifts of the poetic texts.

Oriana director William Chin’s six capable voices and Ars Antigua director Jerry Fuller’s stylish instrumentalists blended beautifully in the resonant acoustics. Nowhere did they do so more satisfyingly than in the little vocal ballet “Movete al mio bel suon,” in which a lute-playing poet invites a bevy of nymphs to “move your nimble feet to my beautiful music.” Here Matthew Schlesinger wielded the ideal Monteverdi tenor: light, clear, technically solid and musically accomplished.

The rest of the singers, not to mention the deft, resourceful instrumentalists, proved just as good. Together, they made Monteverdi’s evocative songs about love’s pains and pleasures a delight to experience.