Monteverdi and others - Era La notte

"Opéra de Chambre"

Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Paris, Friday May 4 2007

  • Pietro Antonio Giramo: La Pazza
  • Claudio Monteverdi: Lamento d’Arianna
  • Barbara Strozzi: Lagrime mie
  • Claudio Monteverdi: Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

Production: Juliette Deschamps. Costumes: Christian Lacroix. Anna Caterina Antonacci. Soloists of the Cercle de l’Harmonie under Julien Chauvin.

A single sentence found on the web sums up this rather intense evening: “Era la notte presents four highly emotional, seventeenth-century Italian works, sung with commanding theatricality by Anna Caterina Antonacci.” Presented as a “chamber opera”, the performance is really a staged recital of works composed between 1620 and 1650, united by period but also by the the theme of destructive, mostly amorous, passion.

The production is simple. The stage is nearly bare, with just a strip of water at the apron changing colour, from blue to blood red, depending on variations in the “old master” style lighting that follow the text being sung, and a handful of props: buckets of water, a heap of armour, a red stool. At the rear, against a pitch-black backdrop, is a high, wide bank of burning tapers. Antonacci enters from behind the tapers in a series of magnificent, glittering, trained dresses, at one point (for Lagrime mie) holding a dove in her hand and placing it in a red cage.

Any evening requiring a singer to spend 80 minutes acting alone on stage and holding the audience spellbound is something of an exploit. But, as might be expected, Antonacci carried it off, confirming her status as an outstanding tragic diseuse, expressing the passions described in a virtuoso but admirably restrained display of baroque rhetoric, accompanied by a small band of seven equally virtuoso players.

The highlights of the evening were the Monteverdi works, and the musical triumph of his Il Combattimento, which ended the evening, was reinforced by an unexpected coup de théâtre: as Antonacci fell to the floor at the closing bars, a sudden shower of water at the rear of the stage gradually doused the tapers in a faint hiss of steam.

Only 80 minutes, but at this level of intensity, any more would have been too much.

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