Vocalists, dancers elevate Chatham Baroque concert

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
May 1, 2015
Mark Kanny

The combination of Chatham Baroque and the Ping vocal ensemble produced one of the most enjoyable and valuable concerts of the season April 30 at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium in the Hill House Kaufmann Center in the Hill District. The program is devoted to the music of Claudio Monteverdi and will be repeated through May 3.

Monteverdi occupies a pivotal place in music history; the composer has the genius to make a new musical style totally compelling. Although trained in the music of the Renaissance, Monteverdi opened the door to the baroque era and explored the new style with a staggering range of invention.

The centerpiece of the Chatham Baroque and Ping concert is “Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda” (The Battle of Tancredi and Clorinda), but it is smartly preceded by five vocal pieces about love's joys and pains. Ping is the early music and new music vocal ensemble of Carnegie Mellon.

The concert was performed in the original Italian, with translation projected above the performing space — which is more useful than printing the translation in the program booklet.

The brilliance of Monteverdi and the performers was displayed by the opening number,“Zefiro Torna” (Return, O Zephyr), which features text painting of joyous scenes of nature, contrasted at the end by loneliness.

It also served to introduce Chloe Holgate, the remarkable lead soprano of Ping. Her voice has tremendous presence and agility. The way she occasionally introduced light vibrato after singing with none had the utmost finesse. Adrienne Lotto was the second soprano, whose voice has less edge, but partnered well with Holgate in exchanged and overlapping lines.

The drinking song “Damigella Tutta Bella” featured guest tenor Aaron Sheehan and Ping's men — tenor Garrett Eucker and Sean Salamon — in a genuinely exuberant performance, which concluded in lively instrumental dance music.

After intermission, “Combattimento” received a staged performance, with two dancers from Attack Theatre enacting the story. Set in the first Crusade (1096-99), Tancredi comes upon an Arab warrior seeking honor and glory. After a lengthy struggle, which leaves both fighters bloody, bruised and exhausted, Tancredi wins, but his heart breaks when he sees his dying opponent is a beautiful woman, Clorinda.

Most of the story of “Combattimento” is told in narration, which was delivered with dignity and conviction by Sheehan. Because ornamentation was in short supply, his performance lacked some emotional intensity.

While Sheehan narrated, dancers Kaitlin Dann and Dane Toney performed combat action choreographed by Attack Theatre's directors Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza. Their concept was artistic and did not follow every turn of the narrative.

Bass Salamon and Holgate were superb as Tancredi and Clorinda, as stylish as they were expressive. Both singers and dancers were onstage for the final sections of the piece, with the singers mirroring the dancers' movements.

“Combattimento” ends abruptly with Clorinda singing “I die in peace.” The performers smartly followed her last words with an affecting account of “Vivro fra i miei tormenti” (I shall live in grief and torment), a madrigal in three sections for five voices, with words that fit Tancredi's feelings.

Chatham Baroque was expanded for this program to include Karina Schmitz, second baroque violin; Kristen Linfante, baroque viola; Simon Martyn-Ellis, baroque guitar and theorbo; and Adam Pearl, harpsichord and chamber organ. The ensemble was as eloquent in accompanying the singers as it was commanding when performing on its own.

Chatham Baroque and Ping perform Claudio Monteverdi at 8 p.m. May 2 and 2:30 p.m. May 3 at the Elsie H. Hillman Auditorium, 1835 Center Ave., Hill District. Admission is $30, $27 if purchased in advance, $20 for seniors, $10 for students. Details: 888-718-4253 or chathambaroque.org

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.com.