Le poème harmonique’s distant mirror

I went to hear Le poème harmonique playing Monteverdi and such at Columbia and I wrote about it for Bachtrack.

In his 1995 book Text and Act,
the musicologist Richard Taruskin wrote of the historically-informed
performance movement, “the very recent concept of historical
authenticity is implicitly projected back into historical periods that
never knew it.” To be fair to the French group Le Poème Harmonique,
whose program “Venezia” opened the Miller Theatre at Columbia
University’s season, their press release trumpeted an “eye-opening
approach to opera using historical gesture” rather than textual
authenticity. But the program also claimed to depict 17th-century Venice
from the “streets to the palaces,” and, as my companion remarked,
Venice doesn’t have any streets. It has canals and calle, alleys.

Read the rest here. You may gather that I didn’t like this concert much! It’s a real shame the Konzept proved so misguided, because the actual performances were decent and the rep was interesting, so I wish I had been able to appreciate it. I do not wish to pile on and therefore will refrain from having another Program Notes Smackdown here, but I do want to note that there is absolutely no scholarly consensus that “Pur ti miro” is by Ferrari as the notes state. Also, why did this program not feature Arianna’s lament? It’s arguably only semi-Venetian, but it’s so good!

Administrative note: I can’t promise much blogging for the next few months, but I am going to Einstein on the Beach tomorrow, and will get out to Elisir d’amore as soon as I can.

Here’s a piece that was not on Wednesday’s program (and Neapolitan rather than Venetian): the Lamento della pazza, attributed to Pietro Antonio Giramo, given an audacious performance by Anna Caterina Antonacci.

photo copyright O. Matsura

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  1. I've linked to your review – I saw Tommasini's and realized it was a program I'd reviewed four years ago in Berkeley! Joshua Kosman has called me and AT pushovers. 🙂

  2. My partner and I were there on Friday as well, but I am not prepared to be as generous as our blogger about La Poeme Harmonique. I thought the choices of music were wonderful because they were, mostly, beautiful as well as unfamiliar. I thought the ensemble of strings was wonderful as well, and much enjoyed their versatility, along with the percussionist's. After a while I didn't even miss the usual baroque oboe and/or recorder. But I very much disliked two of the four singers. The soprano, in particular, was just awful. I don't know where she got the idea that "correct" baroque style means extruding — not singing — nasalized vowels directly through the mask without even the merest trace of vibrato. I'd have preferred a root canal without anesthetic to the sound of her voice. And the twee tenor who "sang" "Dormo ancora?" from Il ritorno d'Ulisse was so caught up in the over-the-topness of it all that he forgot to sing the notes. Rather, he swallowed them — they were so far back in his throat that he could hardly have avoided it even if he'd wanted to — and chopped the consonants as though he were making salad. Both of these singers need diction lessons: the "O" in Italian does not sound like "eau" in French, but more like the English "aw." I could hardly understand the words of "Dormo ancora" although I know the libretto almost by heart. The baritone has a lovely, velvety voice with plenty of energy at the bottom, but he, too, kept it mostly to himself. The only singer worthy of the instrumental ensemble — and of the music itself — was the lively curly-haired tenor who actually opened his mouth, placed the vowels right at the front, and used more than one color for his voice. These people should listen to Guillaumette Laurens. She's French, she specializes in early music, and she is a magnificent technical as well as artistic singer. They should also listen to Skip Sempe's fabulous Capriccio Stravagante, also based in Paris. I hope the Miller Theater doesn't waste our money on La Poeme Harmonique again. There are many wonderful, small, mostly unknown Baroque ensembles that out-music that gang 24/7.