Portraying Monteverdi’s Genius

Wednesday, Oct 04, 2017
Andrew Munn
Juilliard Journal
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Monteverdi rehearsal
William Christie, at the harpsichord, leads the first combined rehearsal for the October 5 program.

Historical Performance players retrieve their gambas, violins, and theorbos from their cases and tune the gut strings. Dancers stretch and mark through choreography in front of the instrumentalists. Singers, we make our noises, hums, lip trills, and sighs, and mouth through quick passages of Italian recitative. Maestro William Christie takes his position at the harpsichord, the room hushes. He strikes a chord. It sounds slightly off to modern ears, and rehearsal begins with an explanation of meantone tuning (the space between the intervals of the scale are less even and a little more pungent than the standard, and aptly named, equal-temperament system we normally use) and a brief verbal manifesto on the vivacity of Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi’s nearly 400-year-old Eighth Book of Madrigals.

The occasion is the first joint rehearsal of that seemingly-impossible-to-arrange, always-amazing-when-it-happens Juilliard phenomenon, a multidisciplinary performance. On October 5 Christie will lead the combined forces of Juilliard students in Historical Performance, Vocal Arts, and Dance in a program called The Genius of Monteverdi. That genius will be apparent in the span of emotion and form the composer instilled in his work, ranging from a comedic surrender to love in Gira il nemico and the sublime beauty of Lamento della ninfa to the operatic miniature depiction of ill-fated women in the underworld in Il ballo delle ingrate.

Dancers in Monteverdi rehearsal
Matthew Gilmore, left, and Alysia Johnson, right, are dancing in Monteverdi's 'Il ballo delle ingrate." Bass Alex Rosen, center, is singing the role of Plutone.

It’s Il ballo that features the combined dance-vocal arts-early music forces. “It’s always such a pleasure to step out of your own sphere and interact with other amazing artists at the school that we never really get to see,” said Peter Farrow, the fourth-year dancer who choreographed the piece, which was staged by Zack Winokur (BFA ’12, dance). “And having such a beautiful and morally depraved libretto just adds another layer of intricacy and is a fun challenge to work with.”

Bass Alex Rosen, who’s singing the role of Plutone, god of the underworld, said after that first rehearsal with all the performers, “I loved watching the dancers adding a new dimension to musical material with which I felt so familiar. Their relationship to the music was totally different than mine, more about shape and visceral character,” he said. “They’re all so supremely talented, and it was a joy to watch them put Monteverdi on his feet.”

Bass Andrew Munn, a second-year master’s student, holds the Michael L. Brunetti Scholarship in Voice, the Marion and Robert Merrill Voice Scholarship, and the Risë Stevens (’36, voice) Scholarship.