Magic Modern Dance Meets Monteverdi
by Philip Anson / August 29, 1999
On the Aisle
August 1999. Innsbruck, Austria – The Austrian city of Innsbruck, decoratively nestled in the Tyrolian alps along the river Inn, is best known as a ski resort and the site of the 1964 and 1976 Winter Olympics, but every summer since 1980 it has also hosted the two week, 30 concert Innsbruck Early Music Festival, one of the most important pit stops for lovers of the baroque, medieval and renaissance rep.
Concerts take place in cozy churches and palace halls with seating capacities of around 400, perfect for the modest carrying power of historical instruments like valveless horns and gut-stringed violins. Since the Belgian countertenor-cum-early music conductor René Jacobs took over the Festival’s artistic directorship in 1996, the budget has increased to $3,200,000 (Canadian), and 10,000 tickets are sold annually.
This year’s festival closed last week with two memorable highlights. First was a dietetic period instrument concert version of Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte, with the 40 member Concerto Koln orchestra and virtually the same cast as on Jacobs’ recent interactive CD-ROM recording of Cosi for the harmonia mundi label (soprano Veronique Gens was replaced by Iulia Isaev, tenor Werner Gura by Marcel Reijans).
Jacobs doesn’t usually perform anything as modern as Mozart but, like other early music specialists (Norrington, Herreweghe) who occasionally take a walk on the wild side of the classical-baroque dividing line, he brought light textures and vivacious clarity to Mozart’s 1790 Singspiel. The downside of the tiny Concerto Koln period instrument orchestra is that individual players are perilously exposed. The valveless horns, murderously difficult to play at the best of times, occasionally wandered off pitch, though the string section, all using period bows, was flawless.
The cast, who often sing earlier music with Jacobs, had colorful and expressive mid-sized voices, but the only real stand outs were mezzo Bernarda Fink (Dorabella) and baritone Pietro Spagnoli (Don Alfonso). The unfortunate Despina (Graciela Oddone) lost her place in her first big aria, and if Maestro Jacobs’ looks could kill, she would have fallen dead on the spot. The modern 1380 seat Innsbruck Congress Saal had excellent acoustics.
The surprise triumph of the week was the Innsbruck Festival’s first venture into dance with a pastiche of Monteverdi madrigals (Books 6-8) called La Guerra d’Amore (The War of Love), choreographed by Joachim Schlomer and danced by the Tanz Theatre Basel. Earlier this year Jacobs wowed New York with Monteverdi’s opera L’Orfeo, choreographed by Trish Brown. For the equally stunning La Guerra d’Amore, the 5 solo singers of the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (led by soprano Agnes Mellon, mezzo Marisa Martins, and bass Martin Snell) were integrated with the 21-member Basel dance troupe, all dressed in street clothes, creating a timeless human landscape through actions as simple as pacing, twitching, and bowing with bird-like grace. The troupe did several extended, complicated ensemble numbers (which stylistically reflected the influence of Schlomer’s patron Mark Morris) to accompany Monteverdi’s 20 minute madrigals, Il Ballo delle Ingrate and Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda. But it was the madrigals with just one or two voices which elicited Schlomer’s most poignant choreography. For example, in “Sei Langui di mei” from Monteverdi’s madrigal Book VII, a darkly handsome solo dancer frenetically ran his hands over the body of the mezzo as she sang her passionate lament His hands were like electrons whirling around an attractive but untouchable nucleus. There were many other equally magic moments, but the greatest works of art are the hardest to describe and after an experience as rare as this one was, the lingering buzz of wonder was too precious to dissect.
The 2000 Innsbruck Festival theme is Creation Myths: Chaos and Light. Performers will include the Ensemble Clement Janequin, Les Talents Lyriques, Mala Punica, Florilegium, Quatuor Mosaiques, and Ensemble Soave. Operas will include Giovanni Legrenzis’s 1675 La Divisione del Mondo, a co-production with the Schwetzinger Festspielen, and Scarlatti’s 1721 opera seria Griselda, with the Deutche Staatsoper Berlin under Jacobs. Info: Festwochen Der Alten Musik. A-6020 Innsbruck, Haspingerstrasse 1, Innsbruck, Austria. Tel. 43 0 512 57 10 32. Fax: 43 0 512 56 31 42. Internet: www.tis.co.at/fest-alte musik.
Copyright by Philip Anson (Questions or comments? [email protected]).