Pre-Concert Talk | 7 p.m. : ‘Sing, Pray, Love: John Milton’s Amorous Women’ by Elizabeth Hodgson, Professor at the UBC Department of English Language and Literatures
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Artists: Atalante: Nadine Balbeisi, Myriam Leblanc and Ellen Torrie, sopranos; Adrienne Hyde, viola da gamba and lirone; Antoine Malette-Chénier, triple harp; Christina Hutten, harpsichord Lucas Harris, theorbo (chitarrone) and music director
Milton in Love paints a portrait of the English poet John Milton’s sojourn through Rome where he fraternized with the Illuminati, attended opera and oratorios, and became enamoured with the singing of soprano Leonora Baroni. The laments display the sensuality, ecstasy, and eroticism of early Baroque Rome, and the performances by Erin Headley and her ensemble are sure to surprise and delight audiences as well.
“Having discovered a rare and mysterious manuscript in the Vatican Library in 1975, my life changed forever! The music was a 17th-century Roman oratorio, ‘Cain and Abel’. Near the end of the work was the lament of Cain accompanied by an instrument called the ‘lira’ (or lyre). The music was both sublime and haunting, and after some investigation I learned that ‘lira’ was the ‘lirone’ (large lyre). Following my research abroad on its history, culture and repertoire, then learning to play it and sharing its repertoire through performances and recordings, I decided to create a multi-media concert around the story of John Milton, who found Rome to be the pinnacle of his Grand Tour of Europe in 1638/9. Besides attending poetic academies, and meeting the city’s most learned men and the cardinals of the Barberini court, he was invited to attend a private concert of three singing ladies, a mother and two daughters who accompanied themselves on the viola da gamba, theorbo, triple harp, Spanish guitar and the lirone! One daughter, Leonora was such a huge sensation in Rome for her singing, poetry, grace, beauty and intelligence, that even Milton, the Puritan was under her spell. Milton in Love is really the culmination of my privileged and fulfilling life with Italian music, and I look forward to sharing these ravishing treasures with Vancouver.” – Erin Headley, music director Atalante
Together with a chitarrone, triple harp, baroque guitar, lirone and viola da gamba, the ensemble supports a trio of female voices who bring to life a multimedia programme of ultra-expressive laments.
This concert is generously sponsored in loving memory of Ralph and Therese Spitzer
Luigi Rossi (1597-1653)
Piango, prego e sospiro
Domenico Mazzocchi (1592-1665)
Piangete occhi, piangete
Marco Marazzoli (1602-1662)
Scenes from L’Oratorio di Santa Caterina
Pianto della Maddalena
TEXTS AND TRANSLATIONS
Click here to read the texts and translations.
John Milton (1608–1674), one of England’s most preeminent poets, polemicists and men of letters, was born near St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. His early education included the study of English, French, Italian, Latin, Greek, Hebrew, mathematics and theology. Regular attendance at All Hallows near the Tower encouraged Calvinist and anti-Catholic views, and galvanized his Puritan outlook. After receiving a Master of Arts degree at Christ’s College, Oxford he returned home to contemplate a career in writing, and to that end in May 1638 he embarked on a tour of Europe to advance his literary standing and cultural grounding.
His visit to France was cut short since he found the court of Louis XIII unappealing in its excessive lifestyle and anti-Huguenot leanings. Via Nice, Genoa, Livorno and Pisa, he reached Florence in July where he immediately felt at home in its artistic, intellectual and social atmosphere. At the renowned academy La Crusca, his own literary reputation was elevated by his neo-Latin poetry, thus creating important connections to Rome’s intellectual circles.
Upon entering Rome in September, 1638, our austere Puritan was struck by a 28-century-old city whose ancient ruins of Etruscan and Roman history he could only read about as a student. Here was the bustle of priests, cardinals, clerics, Jesuits, Oratorians, monks, Protestants of every sect, pilgrims, students and foreigners, not to mention monuments, palaces, villas, exquisite fountains, magnificent churches, chapels, oratories, art, extravagance, sensuality, theatricality, sublimity. This is what we now call “the Baroque” that had its dawn in the Eternal City.
At the pinnacle of this heap of riches was the Vatican, the papal empire of the Barberini family who aimed to display the triumphs of the Catholic Church and the banner for the Counter-Reformation: “Delectare et docere”– “To Delight and to Instruct”. To this end vast sums were spent on the arts. Maffeo Barberini (Pope Urban VIII) was a pious Catholic and an intellectual who appointed two of his erudite nephews, Francesco and Antonio Barberini as his top cardinals; they became major patrons of the arts, forming their own musical establishments, and supporting countless numbers of vocal chamber works as well as operas and oratorios. The works being performed tonight were primarily commissioned by the Barberini.
Deluged by delight and opulence, Milton took homage in Rome’s literary academies where his neo-Latin poetry again impressed prominent literary figures and patrons. At the Accademia degli’Umoristi (Humorists) he may have seen or even heard their only female member, Leonora Baroni (1611–1670) known not only for the artistry of her singing but also for her abilities to write verse and compose music.
Little did Milton suspect that in the following winter he would attend a more intimate academy or “salon” at the villa of Leonora’s father. Meanwhile he was hearing reports of such concerts which also included her mother and sister, where the three ladies would have sung repertoire like Luigi Rossi’s trio, Piango, prego e sospir. Rossi was leader of the bel canto school, whose hallmarks were luscious harmonies, slow, painful dissonances, suave and beguiling melodies, entwining melodic strands and exquisite textures that could illustrate the whole of earthly and heavenly love.
Domenico Mazzocchi’s Musiche sacre e morali, 1640, is a collection meant for “private religion” to reflect on morality and spirituality in the intimate surrounding of a palace room, a small chapel or an oratory. Misura altri shows us how clocks measure human life: the mechanical clock crushes human pride; the hourglass reveals that life turns to dust; the sundial points out that human desire is but a shadow. But the water clock reminds us that all mortal life is grief, which can only be measured in tears.
The extraordinary spiritual cantata Piangete occhi, piangete entreats listeners to contemplate the crucifixion and to express grief by shedding endless tears in the love of Christ. The music’s excessive dissonances ooze religious ecstasy.
On a lighter note, Folle cor encourages us to “flee life’s false delights” with glittering and beguiling musical imagery. Mazzocchi’s luxuriant close harmonies reveal here his own brand of bel canto style.
Rossi and Marco Marazzoli collaborated on a number of oratorios, one being the anonymous Santa Caterina. The libretto, set in Alexandria, tells of a beautiful, virtuous and devoted young Christian queen who rejects the advances of Maximinus, the visiting Roman emperor. In Part I she is chained, imprisoned and left to starve for scorning his pagan ways. In Part II the miracle of faith that sustained her in prison then provokes the emperor to submit her to the torture wheel, which is miraculously shattered in her hands. In a rage he then orders his soldiers to slay her by sword. She dies serenely imploring the forgiveness of her Lord and Savior. One sympathetic soldier, converted by her remarkable faith and courage cautions the crowd to abandon their earthly desires and to treasure heaven above all else. The final choir sublimely amplifies that message.
At the end of his second visit to Rome, Milton was invited to attend a private concert at Leonora’s family villa. There he would have heard cantatas like Marazzoli’s lament of Artemisia, the Greek queen (300 BC). Grief-stricken by the death of her husband Mausolo, she built a huge monument at Halicarnassus that prompted the term “mausoleum.”
Her never-ending grief later induced her to drink his ashes mixed into her wine. After twisted and depraved soul-searching, she sobbed so uncontrollably that her tears flooded the goblet, spilling his ashes into oblivion.
Rossi’s Pianto della Maddalena is a lengthy spiritual lament set almost entirely in ultra-expressive recitative, with only one very brief concluding aria. This can be seen as a Jesuit “Imagination Prayer” in which the opening narrator offers a visceral image of the Magdalene with Christ bleeding on the cross, followed by her long spiritual and moral questioning.
After so many religious indulgences, Milton must have found relief in the lightweight Occhi belli. The duet describes the agonizing but exquisite pain caused by a lover’s beautiful eyes (Leonora was well-known for hers). We can only imagine how well-received this would have been by the nobility, the cardinals – and indeed by Mr. Milton.
The three singing ladies accompanied themselves on an array of musical instruments: Leonora on the chitarrone and viola da gamba, her sister Caterina on the triple harp and her mother Adriana on the lirone (large lyre). With as many as 14 strings, this remarkable bowed instrument produced an otherworldly sustained sonority particularly suitable for lamentation. This is the “lyre” of Leonora’s mother whose “golden strings moved in harmony” as mentioned by Milton in one of his Latin epigrams.
At the villa he met André Maugars, the famous French viola da gamba virtuoso who often visited Rome. His published pamphlet of 1639 on Rome’s musical scene, declared her to be “the marvel of the world, whose exquisite song held gods and men entranced”. Apropos that evening, he declared:
“This concert transported me into such ravishment
that I forgot my mortal condition
and believed myself to be among the angels.”
The trio Disperate speranze ends the concert with the sighing and weeping of another sentimental lover, perhaps Milton?
What can I expect from my idol?
Alas, false hopes, fly away!
Indeed Milton would fly away soon – back to his beloved England where a civil war was brewing. As he looked back, perhaps Leonora and Rome had been an illusion, which he could only express through his poetic voice. In one of his three Latin elegies under the title Ad Leonoram Romæ canentem (To Leonora singing in Rome) he extols her soul-moving song:
If God is in all things and is everywhere, he still speaks only through you, while he remains silent in everyone else.
- Erin Headley
Nadine Balbeisi, soprano
The American/Jordanian Soprano, Nadine Balbeisi launched her international solo career when she moved to Germany, singing Oratorio, Chamber music, Opera and Recitals. Her repertoire extends from the 14th through the 18th Centuries. She has performed with various ensembles and orchestras such as Atalante, Concerto con anima, Neue Düsseldorfer Hofmusik, and Solamente Naturali, and sings medieval repertoire regularly with the women’s Schola Ars Choralis Coeln.
Nadine founded the duo Cantar alla Viola together with viola da gambist Fernando Marín, dedicating the past 19 years to research, interpretation and rediscovering the musical practice of singing with a viol. Their album of Italian Renaissance music, Segreti Accenti, was nominated for the International Classical Music Awards.
She received a Bachelor’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Michigan, studying with George Shirley and obtained a second degree from the Hochschule für Musik Köln with Barbara Schlick. In 2022 and 2023 the German Music Council – Deutscher Musikrat Neustart Kultur awarded her two grants for projects on 17th Century Italian music and women composers.
Myriam Leblanc, soprano
A graduate of McGill University, Myriam Leblanc obtained a master’s degree in choral conducting direction from the University of Sherbrooke. She was a First Prize winner and People’s choice Award winner at the Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières Competition, a Jeune Ambassadrice Lyrique in 2014 (Prix Québec-Bavière), Audience Choice Award winner at the Canadian Opera Company Centre Stage Competition, Third Prize winner at the Ottawa Choral Society New Discoveries contest, holder of the Excellence grant given annually by l’Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal, First Prize winner in the Mathieu-Duguay Early Music Competition at the 2017 Lamèque International Baroque Music Festival. She has been working in the world of music for few years. Leblanc is recognized for the purity of her tone, a flexible and warm voice and her mastery of both technique and musical expressiveness.
In 2016, she made her debut with the Opéra de Montréal in the role of the High Priestess in Verdi’s Aida. La Presse music critic Caroline Rodgers described her voice as one of “rare beauty”. Her more recent performances (2017-2018) include Milica in Sokolovic’s Svadba with Opéra de Montréal, Micaela in Bizet’s Carmen with Opéra de Québec and concerts with conductors such as Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Kent Nagano, Matthias Maute and Jonathan Cohen. In 2018-2019, she sang a Gilda in Verdi’s Rigoletto, the soprano solos on Handel’s Messiah with Ensemble Caprice, the Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.2 “Lobgesang” with l’Orchestre Metropolitain under Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s direction. Recently, she was a soloist with Les Violons du Roy under Jonathan Cohen’s direction.
Ellen Torrie, soprano
Ellen Torrie is an Ontario-born, soprano and project maker living in Montreal who just completed a master’s degree in early music performance at McGill University under the tutelage of Dominique Labelle. Most recently, Ellen sang the title role in Charpentier’s oratorio Judith with ensemble Capella Antica and is lead soprano at Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal.
While studying music therapy at Acadia University, Ellen appeared frequently as a soloist with local ensembles including Symphony Nova Scotia, and was lead soprano of the Manning Chapel Choir from 2014-2018. In 2017, Ellen was awarded the Canadian Federation of University Women scholarship which funded their participation in Accademia Europea Dell’Opera in Lucca, Italy, where they played Oberto in Handel’s Alcina. This experience motivated Ellen to pursue a career in performance and upon graduation, Ellen moved to Montreal to study with soprano Suzie LeBlanc.
Ellen frequently returns to the Maritimes for solo recitals, collaborations, and residencies. Ellen also recently completed an artist residency at Banff Arts and Creativity Centre with Canadian tenor Kerry Bursey, as the newly formed early music/folk duo Kalliope. Ellen is currently exploring the practice of self-accompanying early music on baroque guitar. As a queer, non-binary musician, Ellen is inspired by the possibility that their queer ancestors had their own musical traditions and that through research, creative speculation, and performance, we can tell a more inclusive and rich story about music and humanity.
Erin Headley’s award-winning ensemble Atalante is named in honour of Leonardo da Vinci’s friend and pupil Atalante Migliorotti, the lirone’s inventor. That magical and hauntingly beautiful bowed instrument has been Erin Headley’s domain since 1980 through a number of acclaimed performances and recordings. In the 17th century, the lirone was associated with lament, a genre that first appeared during the generation of Monteverdi and reached its culmination in Rome.
Atalante’s luxurious continuo ensemble of triple harp, chitarrone, keyboards, viol consort and lirone accompany a sublimely dark repertoire that has been languishing in the Vatican Library for 300 years. Atalante’s debuted in 2009, at the Southbank Centre in London, with staged performances of the laments of Artemisia, Helen of Troy, Mary Magdalene and the Blessed Virgin. The ensemble’s exploration and revival of this fascinating repertoire, including the staging and filming of it, has received continuing support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council of Great Britain. Atalante has made four recordings in their series Reliquie di Roma – music by Luigi Rossi, Marco Marazzoli, Giacomo Carissimi, Domenico Mazzocchi, Bernardo Pasquini and Alessandro Stradella – which have been released on Destino Classics (Nimbus Alliance). Members of Atalante come from the UK, Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Spain and the USA.
Lucas Harris, theorbo and music director
Toronto-based Lucas Harris discovered the lute during his undergraduate studies at Pomona College, and went on to study the lute and early music at the Civica scuola di musica di Milano and at the Hochschule für Künste Bremen. He is a founding member of the Toronto Continuo Collective, the Vesuvius Ensemble and the Lute Legends Collective (an association of specialists in ancient plucked-string traditions from diverse cultures) and is the regular lutenist for Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Lucas plays with many other ensembles in Canada and the USA and has worked with the Smithsonian Chamber Players, Atalante, and Jordi Savall / Le Concert des Nations amongst others.
He teaches at the Tafelmusik Summer and Winter Baroque Institutes, Oberlin Conservatory’s Baroque Performance Institute, and the Canadian Renaissance Music Summer School, and is a regular guest artist with Early Music Vancouver. Lucas is also the Artistic Director of the Toronto Chamber Choir, for which he has created and conducted more than twenty themed concert programs. One of Mr. Harris’ many pandemic projects was the reconstruction of 12 solo voice motets by the Italian nun Chiara Margarita Cozzolani.
Adrienne Hyde, lirone and viola da gamba
Adrienne Hyde is a multi-instrumentalist specializing in historical performance practice on the baroque cello, bass viol, lirone, and bass violin. She graduated from the Eastman School of Music in 2020 and in 2023 she completed her Master’s degrees in Baroque Cello and Viola da Gamba at the Juilliard School on full scholarship. At Juilliard she was a Morse Teaching Artist, a Music Advancement Program Fellow, and a Gluck Community Service Fellow, through which she taught in NYC public schools and mentored young cellists, while providing musical service to her community.
In 2022 she joined the Carmel Bach Festival as a Young Artist performing in a string quartet focused on self study of classical and romantic period performance practice. In the 2022-23 season she will perform as a guest with American Baroque Orchestra, Trinity Wall Street Baroque Orchestra and Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra, and will appear as a guest musician with Repast Baroque, the Sebastians, and in recital at the Helicon Foundation. She will also join the Belgian vocal ensemble Vox Luminis at the Boston Early Music Festival in June 2023.
Adrienne is deeply committed to equity. She is a passionate artistic administrator for the Valissima Institute, a conducting training program for young women committed to gender equity in classical music. Three years ago she co- founded Open Source Baroque, a broken consort of four historical performance students dedicated to the music of women, BIPOC, and LGBTQ composers. She is also a regular volunteer at the Mt. Sinai Psychiatric hospital, where she plays weekly in a high acuity locked ward for patients.
Antoine Malette-Chénier, triple harp
An innovative and creative harpist, Antoine Malette-Chénier plays a repertoire ranging from the Renaissance and the Baroque (on period instruments), to contemporary creations. Principal harp of the Orchestre symphonique de Trois-Rivières, Antoine has played with numerous ensembles in Canada, France and the United States, including the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal, Les Violons du Roy, and the Studio de Musique ancienne de Montréal, both as a soloist, chamber, orchestral and continuo player. Antoine has won many awards, including the 2014 Michael Measures prize from the Canada Council for the Arts, a first prize at the 2013 Montréal Symphony Orchestra Competition, and two scholarships from the National Arts Centre Orchestra. He holds degrees in modern and historical harps interpretation from the Yale School of Music, McGill University, the University of Montréal and the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Lyon.
Christina Hutten, harpsichord
Organist and harpsichordist Christina Hutten has presented recitals in Canada, the United States, and Europe. She performs regularly with Pacific Baroque Orchestra and has appeared as concerto soloist with the Okanagan Symphony, the Vancouver Academy of Music Symphony Orchestra, and the Arizona State University Chamber Orchestra. Christina is also an enthusiastic teacher. She coaches and coordinates the early music ensembles at the University of British Columbia and has given masterclasses and workshops at institutions including the Victoria Baroque Summer Program, Brandon University, the University of Manitoba, Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada’s National Music Centre in Calgary, and the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer Institute. Funded by a generous grant from the Canada Council for the Arts, she pursued historical keyboard studies in Europe with Francesco Cera, François Espinasse, and Bernard Winsemius. She participated in the Britten-Pears Programme, led by Andreas Scholl and Tamar Halperin, for which she was awarded the Loewen Prize. Christina obtained a master’s degree in Organ Performance from Arizona State University under the direction of Kimberly Marshall and an Advanced Certificate in Harpsichord Performance from the University of Toronto, where she studied with Charlotte Nediger. She is now a doctoral candidate in musicology at UBC.