Monteverdi’s Vespers to close Seraphic Fire season

By David Fleshler

Claudio Monteverdi. Painting by Domenico Fetti, circa 1620.

Claudio Monteverdi. Painting by Domenico Fetti, circa 1620.

Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 holds a unique place of importance for the choir Seraphic Fire, which performs it this week at four South Florida churches.

The composer’s ambitious sacred work, which pushed music history forward as Beethoven’s Eroica symphony would do nearly 200 years later, was the first piece Seraphic Fire performed when it expanded from its base in a Miami church to become a regional ensemble in South Florida.

It is also the work the choir will take to Mexico next week on its first international tour, including performances at Mexico City’s ornate cultural center, the Palacio de Bellas Artes. And to choir founder and artistic director Patrick Dupré Quigley, it is a desert-island piece, a demanding, difficult work that represents one of the summits of the art of choral composition.

“There’s fast repeated notes, ridiculously fast coloratura,” Quigley said. “You have these amazing things for tenors and sopranos, constantly shifting metres. It’s not a piece you get to hear that much, but it is a life-changing piece both for performer and listener.”

The Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers for the Blessed Virgin), was first performed 400 years ago, represents a musical bridge from the Renaissance to the Baroque. It has passages of intricate Renaissance polyphony, Baroque grandeur and a complexity and variety of effects—such as stereophonic double choruses and elaborate solo and instrumental parts–that looked toward the future.

“We can really point to this piece and say this is when music changed,” Quigley said. “The roots of symphony and the roots of opera are in this piece.”

Seraphic Fire performs Monteverdi’s Vespers 7:30 p.m. at St. Christopher’s by-the-Sea, Key Biscayne; 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.

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Tue May 11, 2010
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