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, truth be told, couldn't make it through the first madrigal, and I adore Monteverdi. This morning, bored and with time on my hands, I decided to give it another shot, and my reaction could not have been any more different to my original. I was, in a word, 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 to a lip-synched film of 21st century couples breaking up in a posh London restaurant, well somehow it just didn't feel right. This time through however, I got exactly what director John La Bouchardiere must have felt when he thought this to be a great idea for a 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 have for centuries made their points beautifully sans pictures, La Bouchardiere achieves something beautiful, managing to capture the heartbreak of love in sharing the emotional separation of these couples, all occuring simultaneously in a single night.

Through the use of shifting cameras, lighting, filters and various techniques, often in cineme verite) style, along with brief flashback sequences, we see the couples at their most vulnerable, high and low, loving and losing: camping trips, christenings, post love making (discretely, no nudity here) sense both their feelings of elation and doom. All of this somehow gracefully compliments Monteverdi's difficult, stunning harmonizations and beautifully complex polyphony. The richness of the madrigals lays wide open the naked emotions with a brutal power which LaBouchardiere captures with a sure and natural sense of timing, knowing. He knows where to place, move, and leave his cameras, when to cut to a flashback, where to allow reaction shots all flowing in seamless rhythm with this amazing music.

The vocal ensemble I Fagiolini, paired with silent actors make up the entire cast, holding the story together as though their lives depended upon it. I Fagiolini approach Monteverdi powerfully, often in full voice as opposed to the delicacy so frequently heard in this music from other early music ensembles. The result is an often thrilling, sometimes raw soundscape of theatricality, both original and unique in early music. The sighing quality so necessary in Monteverdi is not eliminated by this approach but rather highlights that quality through the use of more complex dynamics and shadings with which I Faiolini imbues the score. It's rather marvelous.

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

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