This post is motivated by the spectacular Vespers performance by the Green Mountain Project, Jolie Greenleaf, artistic director, and Scott Metcalfe, music director. I heard them in Cambridge, Mass., but they also sang in New York City. Here is the New York Times review by CORINNA da FONSECA-WOLLHEIM.
Monteverdi apparently wrote his Vespers to get out of Mantua—some say, to get a job in Rome, some think in Venice.
He wanted some breathing room, literally: Mantua was unhealthy, surrounded by stagnant water, and becoming too provincial for Monteverdi. Working for the Duke, his primary musical space would have been the beautifully decorated but small assembly rooms in the duke's palaces.
So one might well imagine that space was on his mind as he thought about his musical portfolio.
And also in Rome, surely St. Peter's would have come to mind — vast, grand, not so much solemn as stirring. It would have been a great place for Monteverdi's newly theatrical music to resonate in.
But no job surfaced for Monteverdi in Rome. He did end up, though, in one of the greatest spaces of Italy for music: Saint Mark's in Venice. And for that acoustically and historically resonant space, the Vespers were a perfect job-application piece. The space, like the music, was versatile and complicated: capable of big gestures and intimacies alike.
Here is a clip of part of the Vespers, starting at the tenor solo, "Nigra Sum," performed in Saint Mark's (Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner).
You can hear the wonderful reverb that supports the tenor and the theorbo. Added bonus: you can see some of the gorgeous mosaics. And notice one of the many ways Monteverdi has written space into the music: the tenor sings "Surge" -- "get up!"—on a repeated rising scale. Vertical space is right there in our ears!
More about this wonderful piece in another post!