WORKS: Il ballo delle ingrate; Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda
PERFORMER: Cappella Musicale di San Petronio di Bologna/Sergio Vartolo
CATALOGUE NO: 8.553322
Monteverdi’s Ballo… is a cautionary drama about the fate awaiting ladies who refuse the demands of love – a warning probably unnecessary in the Mantuan court in 1608. It was staged; a contemporary described the cavernous entrance to Hades, ‘very profound, stretching as far as the eye could see, and in its depths were fearful monsters’. Venus begs Pluto to allow the Ungrateful Shades to appear; they emerge, dance a mournful ballet, and return ‘to eternal suffering’.
Strings and voices are all finely focused, Abete (Pluto) plumbing a magnificent bottom D at the entrance to the Underworld. Ornamentation sounds spontaneous, and the central ‘ballo’ is highly stylised, with spritely double-dotted syncopations reflecting Monteverdi’s debt to the French tradition of courtly dance music. But Vartolo misses the satirical humour of this woeful tale. Every statement of recitative is solemn and stately, lacking the underlying pulse to add momentum to the monodic line. Though the ending remains unforgettable as the last Soul bids an everlasting farewell to the ‘air serene and pure’, the whole performance is agonisingly slow – Pickett (L’Oiseau-Lyre) takes 11 minutes less.
‘Combattimento’, similarly solemn, nonetheless contains some sparklingly fast patter as Tancredi fights Clorinda, his beloved in disguise. George Pratt