Review / CIMF concert 17, ‘Battle of the Sexes’

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THIS concert did not have a great start, but, in the second offering on the programme, things got a lot better.

The seating was set out cathedral-style, with long rows either side of the room along its length, facing inwards. Along the middle were two raised platforms with a long stage across the top end and, for reasons that did not become obvious until later, a motor scooter surrounded with bridal veil material and helium-filled balloons.

In the middle, to one side, was space for brothers Aarón, Daniel and Pablo Zapico, who together are Forma Antiqva, from Oviedo in the north of Spain, playing harpsichord, theorbo and guitar respectively. They were joined by the Festival Strings to comprise the chamber orchestra for this concert. Led by Aarón, the music was superb throughout. He was energetic and attentive, producing incredible tightness across the orchestra, wonderful light and shade, excellent control of tempi and just the right volume levels to accompany the singers without overpowering them.

So why was the beginning not so successful?

Claudio Monteverdi’s “Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda” from 1624, is a short, single-scene opera performed by three singers, on this occasion Taryn Fiebig (soprano), Marco Beasley (tenor) and David Greco (baritone), all of whom were superb, although Fiebig and Greco hardly sang at all.

The problem was in the production.

The synopsis was in the main festival programme, but not in the hand-out sheet. If you did not read the synopsis before the performance you would have no idea at all, certainly not from the acting or the production, where the piece was going. The singers wandered around aimlessly, someone ambled along with a random balloon from the motor scooter, and others, including Greco, went up to the top and built a screen, which, in the end, didn’t seem to have any relevance to any of the entire concert, let alone this work.

According to the synopsis, the pagan warrior-mistress, Clorinda (Fiebig), is accidently killed by the hero, Tancred (Greco), and, in her dying moments, converts to Christianity. But none of that was obvious in the production. I suppose, though, it is Clorinda who, in the end, wins that battle of the sexes.

The second work was a two-act opera by Giovanni Baptista Pergolesi, “La serva padrona” (“The Maid Turned Mistress”), written in 1733.

It’s the story of the maid, Serpina (Fiebig) scheming with the mute valet, Vespone (played brilliantly by actor Clive Birch) to win the heart of their master, Uberto (Greco). It is at the end, when Uberto and Serpina are married that the motor scooter’s purpose becomes obvious.

It was in this performance that things picked up dramatically, in both senses of the word. The whole things was done with tongues firmly implanted in cheeks (only figuratively of course!). Even better was the fact that, even if you hadn’t read the synopsis you would have been able to follow the plot. The singers performed their roles superbly and the whole thing was thoroughly entertaining.

So, it’s two-nil to the women.

For the last work, the tenor, Marco Beasley, returned to perform Monteverdi’s “Lettera amorosa”, from 1619, which is a setting of a poem by Claudio Achillini. He was accompanied (brilliantly) only by the theorbo. It is described as a madrigal, indeed it is in Monteverdi’s “Seventh Book of Madrigals”, but it is more like a recitative, with minimal accompaniment and a free rhythm.

Beasley’s performance was beautiful as he wrote his letter, entreating it to deliver a heartfelt expression of love to his intended as he awaits their nuptials.

With the score clearly three-nil to the ladies, the audience stood to give the singers and musicians the gratitude they so richly deserved.

[Photo by Peter Hislop]

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