Monday, November 22, 2010

Claudio Monteverdi, Opera's Dr. Frankenstein

When I taught beginning filmmaking at Columbia College
Chicago, I used to tell my students that making a film was
like making a Frankenstein monster:  the important test
was not how pretty the creature looked on the table but
whether life coursed through its veins once the cutting
and stitching were done.

When it comes to opera, it was Claudio Monteverdi 
who found a way to breathe life into the new form. 

What fascinates me about Monteverdi is that his
letters reveal a very uptight man, insecure, obsessed
with money and titles and at times pinched and
bitter; but in his music he is the least judgemental and
most generous of artists.

In his Il ritorno d'Ulisses a partria, based on The
Odyssey,   Homer's villains become two young
lovers experiencing the joy and excitement of
first falling in love.   In one of the most powerful
transitions in all opera, the two young lovers
sing of their joy right after Di Misera Regina,
Penelope's cry of anguish at just how painful
love can be.  "You thought it so important to
punish the Trojans and have left me all alone."

It's archetypical Monteverdi to run love at its
most painful right into love at its freshest and
most exciting, and let the grinding of the two
coming into contact with each other create
the strongest of emotions within his listeners.

Those who endlessly worry over L'incoronazione
di Poppea, especially its portrayal of Nero and
Poppea as human lovers  and not as unconscionable
monsters, do not understand that the unique power
of Monteverdi's work comes precisely from his
unflinching generosity towards the various motions
of the human heart.

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