Ludovico’s Band returned to the Melbourne Recital Centre’s intimate Salonfor the second of three concerts celebrating Monteverdi’s 450th birthday this year. Entitled Operatic Genius, the program offered little tastes from three of the Baroque master’s operas, but in the hands of such masterful musicians this hour-long concert felt like a satisfying feast.
With excerpts from L’Orfeo, it began in lively and rather surprising fashion as the ensemble was joined by numerous singers and instrumentalists from the Victorian College of the Arts Secondary School. Seeing all those fresh young faces beside such renowned musicians as Tommie Andersson (who I assume exuded his usual rarefied calm on theorbo behind the head of the person in front of me), I wondered how these students could meet such high standards.
The real surprise was how poised and capable each of them proved to be. The musicians brought splendid depth and volume to the opening toccata, and the singers very ably took turns with short solos that revealed a couple of fine, natural voices.
This was a joyous start, in many ways about new beginnings: it was an encouraging display of future talent; the setting was Orpheus and Eurydice’s wedding, full of promise and celebratory music played with courtly assurance; and there was a sense of revisiting the birth of opera – for as harpist/MC Marshall McGuire pointed out in the first of his concise, relaxed introductions, Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo effectively united music, singing, movement and drama for the first time.
The concert turned dark with Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria. Delivering Penelope’s rather fierce lament about her husband’s long absence, Liane Keegan’s measured contralto was notable for its depth of tone and emotion. She returned with bitter ferocity as L’incoronazione di Poppea’s Ottavia, her A, a, a, a Dio Roma proving a highlight of the concert. Mezzo Olivia O’Brien, and sopranos Helen Thomson and Erika Tandiono (whose voice has a lovely brightness) were charming as Poppea’s bickering goddesses, conveying frivolous drama with little more than their voices and a few significant looks.
The ensemble’s core members, McGuire, Andersson, Samantha Cohen, who deftly switched between theorbo and guitar, and Ruth Wilkinson on the cello-like violone, played with their usual mix of majestic ease and discipline. They were ably assisted by guest violinists Lizzy Welsh and Shane Lestideau, and Tom Baldwin, who tickled the ivories with sprightly assurance.
With Monteverdi: Operatic Genius, Ludovico’s Band once again made my day in just 60 minutes.