Seraphic Fire opens 20th anniversary season with music of love and war

By Lawrence Budmen

Patrick Quigley opened Seraphic Fire’s 20th season Thursday night in Miami with a program titled “Love / War.”

One can always count on Patrick Quigley to conceive unique programs and the opening of the 20th anniversary season of Seraphic Fire proved no exception. 

On Thursday night in the resonant sanctuary of St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church in Miami, Quigley led his superb chamber choir in “Love/War,” a concert built around Claudio Monteverdi’s Madrigals of War and Love. 

Monteverdi (1567-1643) and the Venetian school of composers represented the transition between the Renaissance and Baroque periods and musical styles. His innovative approach to harmony and basso-continuo scoring changed music history.

While best known for his operas and theater works, Monteverdi’s eight books of madrigals occupy a special place in the choral literature. Book VIII (the final collection with Monteverdi’s own imprint) celebrates the victories in battle of Emperor Ferdinand, and tragedies of war, as well as the joys and sorrows of love. 

Quigley utilized a thirteen-voice choir and six-piece ensemble, consisting of strings and harpsichord.  Two contemporary works and one score by a significant 19th-century composer were interspersed between the Monteverdi selections.

Season after season, Quigley manages to draw blended and balanced corporate sonority from the singers, whether he is working with veteran or new members of the group.  That was immediately evident in Altri canti d Amore, the inspired melody taking wing agile in a full choral proclamation. In the initial recitative of Volgendo il ciel, James Reese brought a noble lyric tenor and incisive articulation to this tribute to the Roman Empire. 

Stunning coloratura flexibility from the female voices and Quigley’s brisk direction provided striking clarity and transparency of individual lines. The choir splendidly veered between expressive darkness and reminiscences of the false charms of Cupid in Altri canti di marte. Sonorous basses John Buffett and Enrico Lagasca were standouts in the madrigals. Harpsichordist Aya Hamada proved a deft and consistently enlivening presence.

The Monteverdi works peaked with Nola Richardson’s riveting performance of Lamento della Ninfa, a tale of a woman’s anguish at being jilted by her lover. This scena is a prima donna tour de force that could have been written for opera a century later. With a pure, sturdy soprano and deep emotional penetration, Richardson conveyed the heartbreak and agony of the tragic heroine.Steven Bradshaw, James Bass and Andrew Fuchs were a finely harmonized trio of shepherds, Monteverdi’s equivalent of a modern pop group.  

The concert concluded with Vago augelletto in which Monteverdi’s depiction of birds was delightfully illustrated by the lightness of vocal timbres and articulation.

What David Heard by Paul Crabtree has two starkly contrasted inspirations: the pain and inner turmoil of David learning of his son Absalom’s death in war; and a meeting of Cardinal Bernard Law with victims of his abuse in the Boston archdiocese. Terse dissonance mixed with radiant textures paint the tense and unsettled aura of searing emotional trauma both Biblical and contemporary. Female voices float over male incantations in this mini-music drama.

Tu, Paz Mia by Ileana Perez Velázquez, a Seraphic Fire commission from four years ago, is a beautifully crafted essay. The bleak phrases’ acceptance of death drew depth of feeling from the singers. 

Sea Drift by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a prominent Victorian era British composer, proved a real discovery. A melodramatic scene of a storm and witness to a sailors death, Coleridge-Taylor constructs layers of vocal building blocks in varied iterations of dynamics and shadings. It proved a terrific showcase for Quigley’s remarkable ensemble.

There are three more opportunities to see this one-of-a-kind program, an apt celebration of two decades of the Miami miracle that is Seraphic Fire.

Seraphic Fire will repeat the program 8 p.m. Friday at Church of the Little Flower in Coral Gables; 7:30 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale; and 4 p.m. Sunday at Saint Gregorys Episcopal Church in Boca Raton.    

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Fri Nov 4, 2022
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