London Philharmonic/Jurowski in New York – Vita nuova

Vita nuova – An Opera based on La vita nuova by Dante Aligheri to a libretto by the composer & Edward Boyako [US premiere]

Dante – Mark Padmore
Beatrice – Tatiana Monogarova
Amor – Marianna Tarasova
Secret Woman – Joan Rodgers

Spirits – Daniel DeVeau, Massimo Pellegrini, Joshua Ross


London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Victor Wheeler

Reviewed: 28 February, 2009
Venue: Starr Theater, Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center, New York City

Vladimir Jurowski. Photograph: Roman GontcharovA pastiche of musical styles best describes this work. The eclecticism runs from Gregorian Chant to the most minimal of minimalism via Wagner. The opera or, as Vladimir Martynov himself calls it, “anti-opera”, was played as a concert and had more the feel and resonance of a cantata. The work was sung in Latin, Medieval Italian, and in English – the latter substituting for the original Russian and had its world premiere at in London just a over a week ago – after intermission, a number of the audience did not return. True, the music is often interminable, with much repetition, but the singing throughout the two-plus hours was majestic and inspiring, as was the orchestral playing. Even Dante’s recitatives, with their syncopated rhythms, were music to one’s ears.

The work is based on Dante Alighieri’s text “La vita nuova” written between 1290 and 1295. Its 31 poems and 42 chapters delineate the manifold times that Beatrice, the love of Dante’s life, entered that life. Mark Padmore (Dante) was present for most of the performance, but this test of vocal endurance did not inhibit his exquisite tenor voice. He sang throughout with strength, vitality, passion, and clarity. Padmore exhibited much pathos in Act Two when Beatrice seems to be warning Dante of his imminent death.Mark Padmore. Photograph: Marco BorggrevePadmore intoned it with such grace and credibility, and in revealing the mathematical and religious significance of the number 9 – Beatrice died in the first hour of the ninth day of the month – his voice carried him heavenward, intoning the significance of the Holy Trinity and its symbolism regarding Beatrice’s death.

Tatiana Monogarova (Beatrice) used her supple soprano voice most effectively and effortlessly reached all the high notes as well as revealing Beatrice’s inner emotions; her duet (a hymn to the Holy Trinity) with Amor was lovingly rendered with Marianna Tarasova’s mighty mezzo/alto voice, whose Act One “I am going away from the lady who served so long to protect you” was a delight. The lushness of the string accompaniment melded with Monogarava’s voice into unique moments of sound. Joan Rodgers was only required for Act One. Her singing was effortless and emotive. The three trebles, who sang the Three Spirits and moved the narrative along, did an admirable job. The chorus was in constant motion at the back of the stage, singing with feeling, grace and ecstasy.

Vladimir Jurowski’s conducting was masterly, the London Philharmonic responding in kind. The end of the opera belongs to the orchestra – the chorus and singers having already left. The thunderous percussion and brass had reverberated robustly off the walls of the wonderfully refurbished Alice Tully Hall and was now replaced with the feeling of being inside a 12th-century Gothic cathedral for the last five minutes or so are left to celesta and marimba, the other orchestra-musicians having exited. We were left in darkness.

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