Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Full Monteverdi: Where Love Comes to Die

Where love comes to die.

Several years ago I attempted to watch this film and couldn't make it to the first madrigal. I'm not kidding. Bored early this morning I decided to give it another shot and an entirely different reaction took place: overwhelmed. I've had a lifelong love of all things Monteverdi and the madrigal books were amongst the first works of his I fell for. Hard. The idea of setting Monteverdi's Fourth Book of Madrigals (complete) to a lip-synched film of modern couples breaking up in a posh London restaurant somehow just did not feel "right." This time through however, I got exactly what director John La Bouchardiere felt when he thought this a great idea for a short (hour long) film.

While it isn't necessary to have visualizations for Monteverdi's grand excursion into love and loss to make their point - the music and word settings make their point(s) beautifully sans pictures, La Bouchardiere nonetheless achieves something beautiful and manages to capture the heartbreak by sharing the breakups of six couples occuring simultaneously in a single night. Through the use of changing camera lenses, lighting, filters and various techniques (most notably cineme verite) and brief flashback sequences, we see the couples loving and losing. We see them on camping trips, christenings, post love making (discretely, no nudity here) and feel their sense of elation and doom - all of which somehow gracefully compliment Monteverdi's difficult, often stunning harmonizations and beautifully sung polyphony. The richness of his a capella score, lays wide open the naked emotions with an often brutal power that LaBouchardiere captures with a sure and natural sense of timing, knowing where to place and leave his cameras, when to cut to a flashback, where to allow the reaction shots - all of it flowing in seamless rhythm with the music.

The vocal ensemble I Fagiolini, paired with silent actors make up the entire cast all of whom hold the hour long film together as if their lives depended upon it. I Fagiolini approach the music powerfully and often full voiced as opposed to the delicacy frequently heard from many other early music groups. The result is an often thrilling (and raw) soundscape of theatricality unique in this style of music. The "sighing" quality so necessary in this music is not eliminated by such an approach but rather becomes a highlight because of the more complex dynamics and shadings of the ensemble. They're simply wonderful.

I can imagine many (most?) might feel the same as I did when first trying to watch this, but - if you've got an hour and can open your heart to some of the most exquisite music ever written to being performed - to being the "script" for an oddly beautiful film, I strongly recommend this gem of a movie.

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