I Fagiolini – The Full Monteverdi

Fourth Book of Madrigals

I Fagiolini:
Anna Crookes (soprano) – Pano Masti (actor)
Carys Lane (soprano) – Alan Mooney (actor)
Clare Wilkinson (mezzo-soprano) – Mark Denham (actor)
James Oxley (tenor) – Katherine Peachey (actress)
Eamon Dougan (baritone) – Anna Skye (actress)
Giles Underwood (bass) – Gina Peach (actress)

John La Bouchardiere – concept/director
Robert Hollingworth – music director

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 9 July, 2007
Venue: Jerwood Hall, LSO St Luke's, Old Street, London

Picture a score or so of small round tables, four chairs to each table. On each white cloth was a night light and three plates of nibbles, with space for any drinks you may have brought up from the bar in the Crypt. Twelve chairs at six disparate tables sat empty – until, in six pairs, the performers entered the hall and took their places. Over the next 90 minutes each pair went rapturously and agonisingly through the vicissitudes of a romantic relationship, with all its adoring, sexual hunger, squabbling, rejection and re-union – ardour, hope, despair, joy and dejection.

The aim was to present – as a living experience – the intense emotions held within words and music written several centuries ago. Singer and actors enacted the human drama of these madrigals before our eyes.

The alternative – more familiar in the concert room, though not outside such a rarefied venue – is a cluster of some half-a-dozen singers who stand stiffly and statically, their eyes glued to a text. They warble meekly, with earnest English reticence.

Consider the demands John La Bouchardiere and Robert Hollingworth put upon I Fagiolini. The singers have to learn some 90 minutes-worth of early-seventeenth-century Italian verse and music. Unaccompanied, they must preserve a sense of pitch. They have to learn the often strange, yet telling, musical intervals that Monteverdi declared they should sing. They have to project the heat of Mediterranean emotions as a throbbing, current, urgent reality – as they are being generated, as they are expressed. Finally, they must each come to terms with the individual character of their respective voices, projecting them full-blooded fashion – impassioned Italian style.

The result is a triumph. We in the audience could revel in and, at the same time, be in awe of the ringing purity of Anna Crookes and Carys Lane, together with James Oxley. Their evenness of tone was a marvel – no screeching when singing forte at high pitch, no rasping or huskiness from their lower register. Giles Underwood had the rich, mellow warmth of a Stradivarius double bass (does such a phenomenon exist?). He reminded us of our feet on the ground, even if our emotions were fervently aloft. Clare Wilkinson and Eamon Dougan gave us, soberly, the evenness of a tempered normality. Together, they produced a sound experience that left us in no doubt that, this evening, we had heard a work of genius – a work of rich humanity, suggesting that music itself was born in song.

This was I Fagiolini’s last appearance in England with “The Full Monteverdi”, but far from the last that I Fagiolini will perform around the world. We in the UK shall all be the poorer and wondering how best the splendour and ardour of Monteverdi may be conveyed in such an immediate fashion again.

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