Monteverdi Madrigals of War and Love by Christopher Morley
Royal Birmingham Conservatoire at Crescent Studio
Many of Monteverdi's madrigals are mini-operas in their own right, dramatic and vividly-characterised, music conveying theatrical action, and it was accordingly a brilliant idea for Royal Birmingham Conservatoire to weave these "Madrigals of War and Love" into a linked sequence as this year's summer operatic offering.
War and Love were almost synonymous in the Italian Renaissance, implying a struggle culminating in sexual surrender ("Make love, not war" was a banality foreign to artists of the period). Here an almost cartoon-like unfolding of the action under Matthew Sharp's direction, played against Colin Judge's evocative set design and Charlie Morgan Jones atmospheric lighting, proved both hard-hitting and effective.
We almost didn't notice the brilliant dexterity of the versatile little instrumental ensemble conducted by Jeffrey Skidmore, their expert delivery a solid base for the onstage action.
This production was double-cast. The youthful voices of the performers I saw on Friday brought some glorious outpourings, appropriate coloratura, and wonderful blending of tones -- though I particularly enjoyed the cavernous bass timbres which made important standout contributions, not a million miles away from what we hear in the world's first operatic masterpiece, Monteverdi's Orfeo.
Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda was a particular highlight, its tenor narrator hardworking and effective, and its subtext of course the ever-present subject of War and Love. Which is where we came in.