Pinchgut Opera: Monteverdi’s Vespers review [Melbourne]

In a very welcome foray to Melbourne, Pinchgut Opera treated a captive audience to a meticulously prepared, splendidly performed concert presentation of Monteverdi’s Vespers

Monteverdi wrote his Vespro della Beata Vergine in 1610 as something of a calling card, so to speak, to showcase his musical talents. While no records remain of performances during his lifetime, it is believed that the publication of his Vespers was invaluable in securing Monteverdi his subsequent post at St Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. 

Vespers came to be Pinchgut Opera’s first 2021 concert due to the focus and efforts of artistic director Erin Helyard. In his program notes, Helyard commented on his present affinity for Monteverdi, conducting the great work at the same age at which Monteverdi wrote it. 

Maestro Helyard led 15 players of the Orchestra of the Antipodes, many playing unique period instruments, including violone, sackbuts and theorbo. Helyard also played the chamber organ, magically balancing his attention between organ, orchestra and singers. 

The orchestra was joined by eight singers, with the grand sum of 24 musicians working in impeccable unison to present the glorious music. Monteverdi’s compositions range from gently ponderous to sprightly rhythmical, unfamiliar and yet immediately affecting and enjoyable. 

Helyard chose to stage the concert with one singer per vocal part. While a massed choir could conceivably sound quite grand, the effect of the eight voices blending so elegantly created a surprisingly voluptuous sound. Each vocal part could be comfortably appreciated in its own right. 

A clear benefit of the performance of Vespers by a company of opera singers was that vocal expression was at a premium. 

The singers were arranged behind the orchestra, basses David Greco and Andrew O’Connor taking centre position, flanked by tenors Richard Butler and Louis Hurley, then countertenor Max Riebl and mezzo-soprano Anna Fraser, with sopranos Anna Sandström and Chloe Lankshear on either end of the line-up. 

While stage direction was judiciously kept to a minimum, a charming effect of call and answer was achieved on two occasions, once with Hurley going off stage to sing from the wings and another time with O’Connor echoing from off stage. While many pieces involved all eight singers, individual items that required smaller combinations of two or three singers provided moments for the singers to shine. 

Pinchgut Opera returns to Melbourne in September with their concert of Purcell & Charpentier. As hinted by Helyard in his opening remarks, it is strongly hoped that the company will fulfill their ambition to bring one of their fully staged operas to Melbourne at some point. 

Vespers played at Melbourne Recital Centre, 7pm Thursday 25 March 2021.

The performance was dedicated In Memoriam to Taryn Fiebig.

Vespers can be streamed as part of the Pinchgut Opera at Home series from 1 April to 2 May 2021. For details, click here

The Vespers program can be read online. 

The Vespers Pre-concert Podcast can be accessed online. 

Photos: #1 Peter Rubie; #2 – #5 Albert Comper

Categories: Opera, Reviews

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