Friday, October 03, 2008

How could I have missed that?

At a loose end last night I looked at the cinema programme - nothing interesting. Then popped briefly into www.bilietai.lt and discovered that the Banchetto Musicale festival, an early music festival, was in full swing, with two Monteverdi 'madrigal operas'.  Now, intellectually I find Monteverdi very interesting, but emotionally his music does not set my heather alight to any great degree. But next week I have my music exam, which may also cover Monteverdi, so I thought I'd better go. Bit strange that the announcement mentioned singers and actors, and that it was in the puppet theatre. But maybe they could not afford to pay for the Filharmonija hall?

The theatre was packed, with many people standing, for the fourth performance of the pieces in a week - full of young people and even some young children, including a babe in arms. Had some doubts about that one, but they, like me, were totally mesmerised.

It was a puppet show! The singers were standing on a podium high above the stage, the band could not be seen, but the puppets did the acting - and they were amazing!

The 'combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda' was a slightly mournful piece for three voices and a four-part band (unusual in Monteverdi's time) describing, essentially, a battle between two knights. The knights were represented by life-sized armoured arms, legs, bodies and heads moved separately by several puppeteers each. In the course of the battle the bodies got divided many times, losing arms, legs, the head, sometimes only having legs or bodies, sometimes ending up in a body-part soup, sometimes just swords flying.....Among the singers I recognized Edita Bagdonaite and Mindaugas Zimkus (I think). The singing was fabulous, as was the accompaniment. There were Lithuanian surtitles, but I did not have time to look at them or try to understand them, watching the action all the time. Wikipedia tells me that this piece includes the earliest known uses of pizzicato and tremolo - I remember the second one, when a knight was a bit scared.  But still, musically, it was rather mournful; mainly recitatives with a fair amount of melismatic writing - I wondered whether these were written by Monteverdi or added by the singers or the editors of the music.

This was followed by the 'Ballo delle Ingrate' (Ball of the Ungrateful) - an incredibly funny production.  Some clouds danced, a very juvenile Amor fluttered around, and a lady (Venere, why does that remind me of 'venereal diseases') danced - looking at the libretto in Italian, I wonder if she was  Amor's mum?  Then the action moved up to the podium where appeared the huge face of an ogre (Plutone) who I suspect was to fall in love with Venere.  Plutone's part really plumbed the depths of the bass voice, and the singer was amazing. Given that the mouth of the Plutone puppet moved alongside the singer's, the audience cracked up. And the audience did not stop cracking up, because then started the ball of the ungrateful; 6 huge heads of very elderly ladies sitting on strong shoulders sitting on the floor (this is really difficult to describe); the hands of the actors moving them, which poked out between neck (what neck??) and shoulders, appeared very tiny indeed. The faces were wonderful!  They danced, skipped ropes (with some difficulties, due to 'age'), had arguments, but then also sang - their mouths moved and the singers sang behind the stage.  It was absolutely brilliant!

At the applause the band came on stage, with their original instruments, including a gamba, a theorbo (I think, had spotted it sticking up at the back of the stage before), and Mindaugas Backus' period cello.

It was really worth going to see this!

Now before my exam I will have a parody mass on Saturday, (14.30, Franciscan church in Traku g), and - maybe, the 15th century German keyboard school on Sunday (19.00, Lutheran Church).  Apart from the first concert by the Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra on Saturday night. Roll on, autumn!


nbm said...

Venere is Venus, so she's related both to Amor (Cupid) and to venereal disease. And Plutone is Pluto, god of the underworld, hence the super-basso voice. This sounds like a wonderful show; I'd love to see it in New York, where I recently had the opportunity to see Monteverdi's opera L'incoronazione di Poppea, in English, in a club (ticket price: ten dollars plus a two-drink minimum, rather unusual for opera).

I'm curious to hear about the parody mass.