Growing up, I had never heard of Claudio Monteverdi. What suburban American public school adolescent had? I had heard of Annunzio Paolo Mantovani (a conductor who made a lot of recordings – mostly of Christmas music? – in the 50’s), but didn’t know until tonight when I googled him that he had a first and middle name. I also don’t know if Mantovani ever heard of Monteverdi, and I don’t know if you (you know who you are) ever heard of either Mantovani or Monteverdi, but am not going to think better or worse of you one way or the other. Googling Mantovani, I have learned that his father was the concertmaster of the LaScala opera orchestra, which leads me to believe that Mantovani probably had heard of Monteverdi. But can you believe everything you see when you google? For example, can you believe that Annunzio Paolo Mantovani’s concertmaster father was named Bismarck Mantovani? No? Google it.
Anyway, I have strayed far from the point before I even told you what the point was. The point is Claudio Monteverdi.
I first heard of Monteverdi in 1962, when I (age 19) attended a performance of an opera at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna. The opera was by Monteverdi and was called “Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria”, “The Return of Ulysses to his Homeland.” Not knowing what to expect, and not being a particular fan of 17th century music, I was nevertheless enthralled by the opera and the performance (although, 51 years later, I can’t say I remember much). But I remember thinking the music lyrical, the plot easy to follow, and everything very precise – no wasted notes or words. Whether that is correct, I am not sure.
I have looked up the opera in Wikipedia, and find quite a bit of information. For one thing, I see that Monteverdi wrote the opera near the end of his life, and that it was a new form for him (he wrote three operas) and for the world in general. It is considered one of the first of the modern operas. I also see that it was performed only three or four times after it was written, and then forgotten. The performances were in Italy (with perhaps one in Vienna). The manuscript was discovered towards the end of the 19th century in Vienna – thus it was not surprising, I take it, that it would have been performed there in 1962.
By the way, I have not listened to the opera since.
And I still have not come to the point.
The point is that, today, I heard a concert of Monteverdi music at the Church of the Epiphany in Washington (part of the church’s every Tuesday noon time music series). Not an opera, but a series of religious and secular pieces, including three songs from another of his operas: L’incoronazione di Poppea. No, this does not mean The Coronation of the Pope–you are trying too hard. It is the story of the coronation of Poppea, a Roman woman who was the mistress of Emperor Nero and who wangled her way to be crowned empress. This opera I have never seen and I will say that Maestro Wikipedia has surprised me with the following:
“The original manuscript of the score does not exist; two surviving copies from the 1650s show significant divergences from each other, and each differs to some extent from the libretto. How much of the music is actually Monteverdi’s, and how much the product of others, is a matter of dispute……Despite these uncertainties, the work is generally accepted as part of the Monteverdi operatic canon, his last and perhaps his greatest work.”
Monteverdi was, by the way, a very important figure in musical history. He is considered the bridge between Renaissance and Baroque music, as well as a founder of (if not THE founder of ) modern opera. He lived from 1567-1643.
Today’s concert was sung by two area sopranos with beautiful voices, Rachel Evangeline Barham and Rebecca Kellerman Petretta. Which is which, I never learned; it was like watching Rosencrantz and Guildenstern sing. They were accompanied by Amy Domingues on the viola da gamba, and Jeremy Filsell on the harpsicord.
A wonderful hour long concert.