Seraphic Fire closes season in grand style with Monteverdi
Fans of Seraphic Fire expect precision, vocal beauty and musical intelligence from the ensemble’s performances. What they don’t expect from the 18-member choir is grandeur on the large choral scale.
But for its final concerts of the season, which opened Thursday in Key Biscayne, Seraphic Fire was augmented by the 44 singers of the Western Michigan University Chorale for a sweeping and powerful performance of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. Seraphic Fire takes the performance on the road next week for a series of concerts in Mexico City— the ensemble’s first foreign tour — and the level of preparation and artistic intensity was clear throughout Thursday night’s performance at St. Christopher’s-by-the-Sea in Key Biscayne.
Although the increase in choral forces would be expected to blunt the knife-edge precision that generally prevails in Seraphic Fire performances, this didn’t happen. Patrick Dupré Quigley, Seraphic Fire’s founder and artistic director, kept the choral forces under control and well balanced — an important consideration in such a small church. In choruses such as Laudete pueri, singers entered with sharp, biting attacks that cut through the surrounding voices. In Lauda Jerusalem, voices cascaded over one another in a climax that was strong without ever becoming muddy.
Monteverdi’s choral work is considered a historic bridge between the Renaissance period and the Baroque, making tough demands on singers and displaying a level of musical ambition that looked forward to the works of Bach and Handel.
For many people the word coloratura conjures up the sounds of sopranos soaring their way through the arias of Bellini or Donizetti. But the Vespers makes difficult coloratura demands on tenors, baritones and basses. In Laudate pueri, for example, the male voices were required to execute rapid ornaments, runs and repeated notes, and did so with precision and considerable virtuosity.
Over the 90-minute course of the evening, a few ornaments got whiffed over — particularly those that seemed to be at an awkward register for the singers — but for the most part the difficult rapid parts in male and female voices came off with a high degree of skill. And the solos were impressive star turns, after which several audience members seemed to want to applaud, although all applause was held toward the end.
Tenor Matthew Tresler brought a rich, focused voice to Nigra sum, crisply bringing off the ornaments and the Latin text. Given Monteverdi’s role in the creation of opera – his L’Orfeo premiered three years before the Vespers – it was perhaps too easy to hear hints of elements of music drama in the Vespers. But Tresler brought a sense of operatic passion and personal style that appeared to look forward to the music that was to come.
In Pulchra es, the sopranos Rebecca Duren and Kathryn Mueller stepped forward and sang a duet that was notable for the purity of their voices — both used vibrato sparingly — and their musical rapport, as they engaged in a rhythmically free but focused interplay.
Accompanying the singers were two organs and three instruments that have fallen into antique status – a lute; a theorbo, which is a sort of large, long-necked lute; and a violone, a cello-sized bowed instrument. Particularly effective was John Lenti on the theorbo, whose plucked chords brought rhythmic and textural bite to the choral and solo sections.
Seraphic Fire performs Monteverdi’s Vespers 7:30 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church, Coral Gables; 8 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church, Fort Lauderdale; and 4 p.m. Sunday at Miami Beach Community Church. Call 305-285-9060 or go to www.seraphicfire.org.
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Fri May 14, 2010
at 12:36 pm