Seraphic Fire closes season in grand style with Monteverdi

By David Fleshler

Claudio Monteverdi

Claudio 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.

Patrick Dupre Quigley

Patrick Dupre Quigley

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

Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “Seraphic Fire closes season in grand style with Monteverdi”

  1. Posted May 28, 2010 at 9:03 pm by Stephen Rochford

    Thanks for contracting Matt Tresler. He is my new Choral/Vocal Colleague and he is a joy with whom to work. We need to utilize his talent as much as possible.


    Dr. Stephen Rochford
    Chair,Department of Music
    Irvine Valley College

  2. Posted May 29, 2010 at 11:28 am by Dr. Stan Breckenridge

    Very nice to read about my good friend Dr.Matt Tresler. He is surely an outstanding singer who performs with passion and conviction with his repertoire.

    Stan Breckenridge, Ph.D.
    United States Fulbright Scholar
    California State University, Fullerton
    African American Studies

  3. Posted Jun 09, 2010 at 8:05 am by Debra Mancsuo

    How do I purchase the Claudio Monteverdi Vespers CD done with Seraphic Fire and Western Chorale?

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Fri May 14, 2010
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