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Bad boy of the baroque returns: The Metropolis Ensemble presents Monteverdi’s Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
by Elisabeth Avery for Vocal Area Network
Posted September 23, 2006

Metropolis Ensemble: All About LoveLove him, hate him -- or, don't know him -- Monteverdi (1567-1643) has sparked controversy for more than four centuries. If history is to be our guide, the Metropolis Ensemble's October 19, 2006 production of Claudio Monteverdi's dramatic three-voice "operatic scena" Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda promises to generate even more debate about the baroque trailblazer.

For those who are Monteverdi-naïve, or who think Monteverdi's lovely, rich harmonies are frozen in time for vocal purists only, it may be surprising to learn that the man who composed this simultaneously ethereal and earthly stuff was really the bad boy of his time. An accomplished violinist, as a composer he pioneered many novel technical and compositional devices that rocked the 17th century's musical world.

One of Monteverdi's most radical innovations was the stile concitato or agitated style. This style included the use of tremolo (in which a note is reiterated to generate excitement) and pizzicato (putting down the bow to pluck the strings with two fingers). Another of his techniques was to juxtapose a fast tempo, with repeated sixteenths and agitated leaps against a slower tempo having calmer textures. The over-arching purpose of his innovations was more provocative: Monteverdi believed that music should prioritize affect, i.e., emotion, so that the music would serve its poetical text. How his music accomplished this is apparent in his masterpiece Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. In one scene, the stile concitato vividly represents the galloping horses, heated emotions and actual combat of war.

While Monteverdi was criticized by his composer peers for his deviation from tradition (and many musicians scorned to use his devices), it is clear today that he was a musical innovator -- a modernist -- pushing the envelope of what was considered acceptable in his time.

It is appropriate that the Metropolis Ensemble, a non-profit chamber orchestra dedicated to unique and daring programming, should pair Monteverdi the Dramatic Innovator with a non-dramatic contemporary song cycle by its Composer-in-Residence, David Schiff.

A counter-weight to Monteverdi's dramatic tale of battle between two lovers, Clorinda (a Moor) and Tancredi (a knight-Crusader), Schiff's song cycle, All About Love, set for tenor, mezzo-soprano, and chamber ensemble, is based on a collection of texts from Petrarch, Louise Labé , Melville, Marina Tsvetaeva, Keats, and Proust. For the New York premiere of the song cycle, Conductor/Artistic Director Andrew Cyr and Schiff wanted to make the dialogue between All About Love and Il Combattimento even more ideal. They hit upon the idea of replacing the clavicembalo of Monteverdi's day, which, along with a bass viol, provided the underlying harmonic gestures known as continuo, with a new instrumentation that would serve variously as continuo and accompanying/harmony generators in All About Love as well, originally scored for piano, violin, clarinet and voice. The new arrangement made by David Schiff for the Metropolis Ensemble includes flute, clarinet, string quartet, marimba, accordion, guitar and synthesizer. Performers in All About Love are tenor Thomas Glen (who doubles as Tancredi) and mezzo-soprano Hai-Ting Chinn.

Tenor/baritone Daniel Neer will direct Il Combattimento, Monteverdi's avant-garde manifesto, with an innovative staging expressly designed for this performance. Neer will also perform the role of the Narrator, joining Glen and soprano Melissa Fogarty, who sings Clorinda.

Certainly, there is no venue better suited to the unusual coupling of Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and All About Love than the haunting setting of the Angel Orensantz Center. This unexpected and soaring space creates a magic all its own. When filled with extraordinary musical programming, the space transforms the concert-going experience into a palpably living organism, where communication and the joy of experiencing great music are shared by musicians and audience alike.

Under the leadership of Cyr and Schiff, The Metropolis Ensemble made a sensual and thrilling debut in February 2006 with its concert "Voices of Night": Copland's Quiet City, Britten's Serenade (for tenor and horn) and Schiff's Singing in the Dark with jazz great Marty Ehrlich on solo alto sax. The vision of the Metropolis Ensemble mirrors Monteverdi's avant-garde clarion call. It is dedicated to creating an artistic home where composers take risks, music is a continuously renewable, living art form and "no jacket is required". Perhaps after All About Love, concert-goers will never don a jacket for Monteverdi again.

"All About Love": The Metropolis Ensemble performs Monteverdi's Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and David Schiff's All About Love on Thursday, October 19, 8 PM at The Angel Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts, 172 Norfolk Street, New York, NY 10002, 212-529-7194. To purchase tickets for "All About Love", please visit www.metropolisensemble.org or call 917-930-6106.


Elisabeth Avery writes about medicine and music. She is a fan of The Tiffany Consort, The Pharos Music Project, Music & Arts at St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, The Metropolis Ensemble, and…VAN.


Content Contact: Elisabeth Avery.
Revision Date: September 24, 2006.
Technical Contact: Steve Friedman.

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