Monteverdi : La Guerra d’Amore & Mozart: Cosi fan tutte
Innsbruck Early Music Festival
Rene Jacobs, conductor
Schola Cantorum Basiliensis & Tanz Theatre Basel
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. Since the Belgian countertenor-cum-early music conductor Rene Jacobs took over the Festival’s artistic directorship in 1996, the budget has increased to US $2.5 million 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 and Herreweghe, for example) 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, but the string section, all using period bows, were 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 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 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 Trisha Brown. For the equally stunning La Guerra d’Amore, five solo singers from 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 ran his hands over the body of a mezzo, like an electron whirling around an attractive but forbidden nucleus. There were many other equally magical 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.
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.