Claudio Monteverdi's "Vesporo della Beata Vergine"


by Ed Farolan

Vespro della beata Vergine (The 1610 Vespers)
by Claudio Monteverdi
sung by the Vancouver Cantata Singers
with James Fankhauser as Director/Conductor
at the Holy Rosary Cathedral November 1 & 2

The Vancouver Cantata Singers celebrated their 40th Anniversary Season with the monumental Vespro della beata Vergine by the great master and innovator, Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643). It was Monteverdi who created a style of singing recreating classical Greek solo song, the monody, pioneerin an expressive, flexible vehicle for voice which he applied to both sacred and secular music.

In 1610, unhappy at Mantua because of his modern excesses, he created a collection of church music , Vespro della Beata Vergine (Vespers of the Blessed Virgin) which he dedicated to Pope Paul V. This composition resulted in his appointment as maestro di capella in 1613, a position he held until his death.

The Vespro includes beautiful renditions of compositions dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, including Assumpta est Maria, Salve Regina, Magnificat, and Ave maris stella .

Soprano Christine Brandes gave a beautiful lyrical and emotional performance of Salve Regina, while tenors Paul Elliott, Colin Balzer and Jacob Doherty offered a harmonious, exquisite interpretation of Duo Seraphim. The other singers, a semi-professional ensemble of around 40 singers, were polished in their vocal choral expressiveness.

James Fankhauser, the conductor and music director of the group, is Professor of Music at the University of British Columbia where he also conducts the University Singers. He, together with his singers, received a warm, extended applause from the Holy Cathedral audience who witnessed this almost two and a half hour concert.

I only have two comments: first, the performance, I felt was extremely interesting and magnificent, but it could have been shortened by at least 30 minutes; Magnificat , for example, should have definitely been edited and cut shorter. And secondly, two songs of Solomon were sung as concertos--Nigra sum which was sung by tenor Paul Elliott, and Pulcra es by sopranos Christine Brandes & Phoebe MacRae. Now, shouldn't it have been the other way around? Nigra sum is supposedly a biblical verse delivered by a black concubine of Solomon, and therefore, should have been sung by a woman, whereas Pulcra es, I assume, is Solomon's song to a woman, and therefore should have been sung by a male singer, unless Fankhauser had his own reasons for reversing the roles.

Handel's Messiah will be the Vancouver Cantata Singers' next production at The Orpheum on Friday December 12th at 8 p.m., Saturday, December 13th at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, December 14th at 2:30 p.m. These singers are very good, even if they classify themselves as 'semi-professionals', and I look forward to seeing and hearing them again next month for Messiah.