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The Full Monteverdi

DVD Review

Alicia M. Doyle

Notes, Volume 65, Number 3, March 2009, pp. 552-553 (Review) Published by Music Library Association

DOI: 10.1353/not.0.0119

In this film, noted opera director John La Bouchardière, visually captures his interactive experiment in musical theater from 2004 in which the viewer witnesses the dramatic emotional experience of six couples simultaneously dealing with various issues of infidelity while communicating not in dialog, but in sung verse. In the live performance, the “audience” members are seated amongst the performers and are not given program notes. The proximity of the per- formers in a commonly understood environment (seated at a restaurant, for example) provides a physical and genuine experience perhaps greater than that of a standard performance space where the divi- sion between performer and listener is marked.

The film version captures this performance objective masterfully. The depiction of time is expanded over one night and into the next morning. As in the live ver- sion, there is absolutely no dialogue in the film, the narrative is entirely created in images and song through a complete performance of Monteverdi’s Il quarto libro de madrigali (1603) sung and acted by the vocal ensemble I Fagiolini. Of the couples dealing with the events, only one of each pair is a member of I Fagiolini; the other is absolutely silent.

Through scenes revealing the history of the couples, including a series of flashbacks, we come to know more about how each pair has arrived at the point of emotional despair. Accompanied by the music of Monteverdi, the viewer witnesses images of events that have ultimately led to this night. Adding to the passionate display, it is not entirely clear in every instance which of the lovers in each pair is actually the guilty party.

Throughout the film, La Bouchardière shows no consistent desire to portray the more subtle double meanings of the original texts, but focuses instead on the basic emotions involved in betrayal: disbelief, sadness, anger, regret, desperation, passion and rejection.

Some of the more blatant imagery is set purposefully. For example, in “Sì ch’io vorrei morire,” particular phrases including “Now as I kiss, love, the beautiful mouth of my beloved heart,” and “Ah, dear, sweet tongue,” Monteverdi’s setting of Maurizio Moro’s poetry is accompanied by images of two of the couples kissing. Poignantly, the line “Yes, I want to die” in the same madrigal is accompanied by what appears to be a momentary reconciliation at several of the lovers’ homes.

The reconciliation, however, is short lived as one partner in each of four of the pairs is seen leaving the home the next morning accompanied by Monteverdi’s setting of Guarini’s Anima dolorosa.

Momentary hopes that one of the couples might survive the romantic challenge are dismissed towards the end of the film, as the last couple of the six, is seen finally breaking up in Anima del cor mio along with continued scenes of the emotional devastation of the other five couples.

Musically, the performance by I Fagiolini (recorded in a studio and lip-synched in the film) is lovely and has some unusual interpretations, as dictated by filmic necessity. For example, Monteverdi’s setting of Guarini’s A un giro sol is portrayed as absolutely sarcastic and bitter during a scene in which the lovers accuse their partners of mocking their love. Never has the breeze laughing sounded so cruel (“Ride l’aria d’intorno”).

Surprisingly, the scene in which O’himè, se tanto amate was sung the performance was very fast, rushing past any depiction of the word painting by Monteverdi of Guarini’s loaded text.

In terms of the narrative structure, the absence of dialog is unproblematic, partially due to the visual cues and partially due to the fact that Monteverdi’s work al- ready contains nascent recitative. Monteverdi fans will not be disappointed.