Love and loss. It seems you cannot have one without the other. They are “yin and yang…” the heads and tails of a coin coexisting. The inevitability of one, fed by the other.
We hear a story of two lovers in Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda from a brand new 2014 Hyperion records release of Monteverdi madrigals, performed by the ensemble, Arcangelo. The story of Combattimento is set during the time of the Crusades, and comes from an epic poem by Torquato Tasso “Gerusalemme liberate.” The Christian knight Tancredi and the Saracen maiden Clorinda are lovers, who unknowingly go against each other in battle. They fight to the death, their faces, hidden by armor. When Tancredi deals Clorinda the death blow, he removes his opponents helmet, tragically realizing he had been in combat with his beloved.
You can hear Monteverdi’s use of the stile concitato in the agitated and rapid fire sixteenth notes depicting the affect of war and Monetverdi’s use of pizzicato as a sound effect for when Tancredi and Clorinda’s swords clash against each other.
Also included on this CD are works from Monteverdi’s 6th and 7th books which were published nearly two decades earlier. One work from book seven heard on this recording is a setting of the poem Ohimè, dov’è il mio ben, dov’è il mio core (Alas, where is my love, where is my heart’s desire) by Bernardo Tasso, the father of the poet who wrote Combattimento. Monteverdi sets the eight-line text to music with four variations for two voices over the popular formula of a Romanesca bass.
The piece that closes Arcangelo’s recording is Lagrime d’amante al sepolcro dell’amata (Tears of a lover at the tomb of the beloved). Set in the form of a sestina, it is a centerpiece of Monteverdi’s sixth book of madrigals, published in 1614. Lagrime was written as a lament for the soprano Caterina Martinelli, for whom Monteverdi had taken into his home, trained, and written the title role for in his opera, Arianna. Tragically, Caterina died from smallpox when she was only 18.
We’ll highlight another CD from Arcangelo next—this one slightly older. Released in 2013 The disc titled, Enchanted Forest features soprano Anna Prohaska in a program themed on nymphs, faries, sorcoressces, enchantresses, all continuing in this same vein of the highs and lows of love lost and found. Like Arcangelo’s other disc, there is some Monteverdi on this recording as well, but Vivaldi, Handel, Purcell, and Cavalli are also represented.
From Cavalli’s 1651 opera, Calisto is the lament, Restino imbalsamate, sung by the nymph Calisto, who is turned into a bear as punishment for falling in love. In the orchestral accompaniment in the opening of this track you can also hear Erin Headly playing a bowed chordal instrument called the lirone.
Another Nymph in despair is depicted in the opening track on this CD, but this time, instead of a lament, this Nymph is in a crazed state of mind over love gone awry. Here’s Anna Prohaska singing Alma opressa or “a soul weighed down” from Vivaldi’s opera La fida ninfa.
There are lots of familiar tunes on this recording for listeners to recognize including selections from Purcell’s Fairy Queen and a famous Handel aria from Alcina. But it’s the aria, Furie terribili! that in a sense, returns us to where we began with this podcast—to Torquato Tasso, and his Gerussalem liberata. If you remember, it was this epic poem by Tasso that Monteverdi used for his Combattimento and, it is on this same text that Giacomo Rossi later based his libretto for Handel’s opera, Rinaldo from which this aria comes.