An exclusive concert celebrates the luminous music of Monteverdi for voice and orchestra
Hearing a sublime singer has always been one of the most thrilling live experiences, in both popular and classical music. The concert with Les Talens Lyriques with Christophe Rousset at this year's Festival, showcasing works by Monteverdi, is a fine opportunity to hear the musical voice as pioneered by the highly influential 17th century composer.
Les Talens Lyriques will have just performed the works in Holland with the Dutch National Opera in the week preceding this concert, so a lot of thought will have gone into the action and drama of the pieces. This show is the only time to hear them perform this work in the UK this year: this is therefore an exciting gig on many levels, be it for the chance to see an in-demand conductor in Brighton, to celebrate the work of a magnificent composer in his 450th birthday year, to hear a rare combination of Monteverdi's works, or to see an internationally lauded ensemble in Brighton Dome's Concert Hall perform some stunning music.
The concert will feature a combination of singers and musicians without any operatic staging, which gives a clear musical focus to the performance and gives you the chance to hear some superb singers without the often intimidating cost of the opera hall. The bill is a selection of madrigals, which is a fascinating form in musical history. A madrigal is a secular vocal composition for a number of different voices, and Monteverdi strove to illuminate every shade of emotion in the poetic works by introducing music to the form (early madrigals were a capella).
You don't have to be a historian or musicologist to appreciate the concert however, just try any of my Spotify playlist to sample some of the beautiful music you'll get to hear. I've selected a punchy, fast-paced Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, because I love how the pace can hurtle along (like it does around the 6.50 mark) and then crawl down into mournful tones with a drone-like backing. It's irresistibly gorgeous, but the riveting twists and turns might take a few listens to unpack for anyone unfamiliar with early music.
You can then switch from the tragic tale of Tancredi mistakenly killing his lover Clorinda in Il combattimento to the more danceable, sprightly Il ballo delle Ingrate, which shimmers with a prominent harpsichord and decadent orchestration. Il ballo is beautiful in a more lustrous, languid and opulent manner to Il combattimento, and I've included a link to a sharply recorded version that handily breaks up all of the smaller movements to give you a taste of the diverse short bursts of the whole piece. The Overture alone is expansive and enveloping, and directly melodic in the bold way that early music can be: immerse yourself in it now to reap the musical rewards on the evening.
Lamento d'Arianna meanwhile sounds more aria-like than the other works, rendered all the more sparsely striking in Anne Sofie von Otter's performance on the playlist. The fragment from a lost opera is imbued with the grief of Arianna who longs for death in words non-Italian speakers might not understand, but the powerful, emotive vocal part is devastatingly moving regardless.
Musical Director Christophe Rousset is a renowned harpsichordist and conductor, who will conduct the upcoming production of early Mozart opera Mitridate, re di Ponto at the Royal Opera House in the summer. You can hear him conduct Les Talens Lyriques performing the work via this Spotify link if you want to hear if Rousset and his ensemble play to your liking!
Whether you're a classical muso or a music lover of any stripe, this concert presents a highly affordable opportunity to hear some of the earliest, most moving writing for voices ever composed, performed by some of the world's best singers and musicians. The works will have been carefully honed over six performances with the Dutch National Opera in the week before the Brighton gig, and it will be thrilling to hear the fresh interpretations that Les Talens Lyriques will bring to the Concert Hall.
Words by Joe Fuller