Vancouver Early Music Festival opens with an emotional and Lovesick journey
An Early Music Vancouver production, as part of the Vancouver Early Music Festival. At UBC’s Roy Barnett Recital Hall on Sunday, July 29
Willie Nelson’s “Crazy” was an unusual choice as encore to an evening of songs from Italian masters of the early Baroque, but an inspired one. Soprano Ellen Hargis and harpsichordist Christopher Bagan left members of the audience for Lovesick with a smile and a sense of continuity of theme that spanned four centuries.
For the opening concert of this year’s Vancouver Early Music Festival, Hargis delineated six stages for the titular malady—heartache, jealousy, madness, insomnia, death, and cure. Death was, of course, figurative, and Hargis played with the hyperbolic language of the songs, from the first attacking “Ohimè” (“Alas”) of Claudio Monteverdi’s “Ohimè, ch’io cado” to Nelson’s bout of more recent self-flagellation.
Hargis found a fine equilibrium between drawing out the exaggeration of the words for their humour and treating them with the same seriousness as the sublime music by Monteverdi and his contemporaries. She used operatic gesture with the many hues of her voice to express the mannered torments of the lovers, especially in her delivery of the anonymous composition “S’io son pazzo”, with the feistily defiant opening verse and chorus, “If I am mad what is it to you?”.
To let some air into the emotional hothouse of the songs, Bagan performed a series of toccatas and other instrumental pieces on harpsichord and a beautifully toned chamber organ. Alas, the harpsichord, too, seemed to succumb to the prevailing ailment and needed retuning during the intermission.
Not all the lovers were pining males. Venetian composer Barbara Strozzi contributed the superb “Tradimento” (“Betrayal”), in which the smitten one is betrayed by love and hope. Strozzi herself sends up the melodrama: “The evil plan has reached the point/That I’ve discovered/I rather like the idea”.
After the florid death wish of Monteverdi’s “Voglio di vita uscir” (“I want to leave life”), the roller coaster of lovesickness came rattling to an end with a cure—well, supposedly so. Hargis was again at her expressive best with “Così me disprezzate?” by Girolamo Frescobaldi, who contributed five compositions to the evening. The wounded lover breaks off the relationship, vowing his perfidious mistress will suffer the same fate, feel terrible regret for “killing” him, and soon see her beauty wither, leaving the last laugh to him. But on Sunday evening, it was Hargis and Bagan who got it, with their torchy baroque rendition of a country classic from the early ’60s.