Emilio de CAVALIERI (c.1550-1602) Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo (1600) [93.18]
Marie-Claude Chappuis (mezzo) - Anima
Johannes Weisser (baritone) - Corpo
Gyula Orendt (baritone) - Tempo/Consiglio
Mark Milhofer (tenor) - Inteletto/Piacere
Marcus Fink (bass-baritone) - Mondo/Compagno di Piacere
Berlin State Opera Chorus; Concerto Vocale
Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin/René Jacobs
rec. 2014, Teldex Studio, Berlin, Germany. DDD Texts and translations
included HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902200.01 [38.15 + 54.33]
Anyone, especially music students, who has been brought
up with Curt Sachs' iconic 'A Short History of World Music'
(Dobson, London, 1956) will have read about the extraordinary ‘three
scores’ of 1600 that altered the course of music. One of the three
was this work which Sachs describes as in the tradition of ”moralities
of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, its dramatic personae were
allegories or abstract conceptions - Time, the World, Life and Intellect
and its attitude was strongly didactic and edifying rather than dramatic.”
So it was with a certain trepidation that I picked out the thick booklet
with its two essays and texts and started to work through this famous
piece which is probably more written about than heard.
Indeed my fears were not allayed on reading the text by Padre Agostino
Manni — wonderfully translated in the booklet by Charles Johnston.
It’s difficult nowadays to agree with or to get a handle on texts
like this. Life according to the character ‘Prudent’ in
the opening spoken dialogue, is a ‘dark vale of tears, a barren
source of thought, a river swollen by tears and a stormy sea of miseries”.
The only way to live is to think upon heavenly rewards and joys. ‘Body’
wants to enjoy fame and fortune in the present world., ‘Soul’
tries to draw him “towards loftier impulses”. But, like
Jesus in the desert ‘Body’ is tempted. However the heavenly
angels eventually carry him through and into the final ‘Festa’
which is a celebration in paradise with singing and dancing. Manni was
a follower of Filippo Neri and his confraternity, a group that emphasised
a personal need for salvation. To make the venture so successful we
must also assume that Cavalieri was at least in considerable sympathy
with their ideas.
I was expecting a series of somewhat dry (secco) recitatives and slow
arias rather in the manner of Jacopo Peri’s Dafne of
the same year but I was utterly wrong. I should have recalled the delight
and fun we had in the late 1970s putting on a London performance of
the music for the 1589 Medici wedding to which Cavalieri made such a
joyous contribution. There are many reasons for wallowing in and really
enjoying this work.
As René Jacobs writes, the piece “offers an ideal vehicle for
studying the role of dance as an integral element of baroque culture
and mentality”. Clearly then, there are dances and bouncy dance
rhythms. There is much use of instrumental colour and contrast, some
of which is dictated by the composer but much else is I assume of Jacobs’
own imagination. There are passages for instruments alone – Interludes
- some by Cavalieri himself but also employing extracts from Schein’s
Banchetto Musicale (not actually published until 1617, but
never mind) and some Masque music (I assume) by Alfonso Ferrabosco the
younger including a superb Infernal Sinfonia.
Jacobs' scoring is for strings but with added recorders, cornets,
trombone and percussion and a continuo including an organ. These help
to delineate characters very successfully. One of my favourite moments
is in Act 3 when a ‘Heavenly Sinfonia’ of strings plays
a little interlude of Ferrabosco’s just before ‘Intellect’
sings ‘Souls who rejoice in Heaven’. These instruments are
split into three groups to allow these colour spacings. In the theatre
Jacobs places them to the sides and behind the singers and this also
allows for some delicious ‘echo’ effects.
Next, the vocal lines, which are often restricted in scope. These do
not encompass a wide range and are not particularly virtuosic. It is
as though the composer does not want us to enjoy the worldly ornamentation
of the singers — although Jacobs does permit some — in favour
of a simpler vocal line. There is, in addition, little text repetition.
The style is more arioso than recit, and there is much for the chorus
to do, commenting on the action and leading us on quickly to the next
scene. In Act 3 a real sense of drama is felt in the contrast between
Heaven and Hell with an audible hell-fire, a sort of musical realisation
of the kind of doom painting you might find in England, say at the Guild
Chapel in Stratford-on-Avon or above the chancel arch in St. Thomas’s
As to whether the piece is Opera or Oratorio, a topic dwelt on in the
booklet essays especially by Silke Leopold, in this performance the
drama of the opera house seems to be very close but to the Romans of
1600. It was nothing but a presentation and an entertainment. Anyway
Jacobs staged the work at Berlin’s Staatsoper im Schiller-Theater
so one can see clearly where he is coming from.
The work has no story-line as such — just a series of conversations
between good and earthly characters. Thus, it is not in the tradition
of the third great score of 1600 Monteverdi’s Orfeo,
being much more static.
Jacobs extracts from his performers a strong sense of drama and momentum.
This is instinctive but also carefully calculated through an in-depth
understanding of the music and its period. I have not heard any other
recording or performance but all I can say is how impressed I became.
It's something to do with the strength of the musical ideas and
the determined work which Jacobs and his supporters, including those
in the technical department, have applied to this project.
My only gripe is that I don’t understand why Act 2 had to be split
between the two CDs. It would have fitted on disc one perfectly well.
Anyway, both CDs and the one hundred-page booklet are in a sumptuous
cardboard case which, very aptly is decorated with scenes from Michelangelo’s
Sistine chapel ceiling.