Combattimento, La Théorie du Cygne noir


Staging by Silvia Costa


Festival d’Art Lyrique d’Aix-en-Provence


In 1640, a few years before he passed away, Monteverdi published a testamentary collection. His eighth book of madrigals holds the essence of his art, combining the science he received from his Renaissance masters and all the innovations he brought to music, then mixing Tasso’s wonderful poetry with new harmonies.

While Monteverdi developed opera – after his first Orfeo in 1607, became the madrigal undisputed master and that his motets made the glory of Venice’s St-Mark Basilica, he published an unclassifiable piece inside this collection. Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda is set just between the genres of opera, declamation, fable, and chanson de geste. If this piece were older than his operas, it would have been considered as a wonderful laboratory of the lyric genre. But it dates back to 1624 : therefore it is what follows, the pursuit of the reflexions of a composer always on the lookout, always excited, who creates this work as the research of a an essence still more concentrated than opera, in a way of telling a story in music that overwhelms the audience more deeply. For him, the Combattimento is a theatrical and lyric piece of a new genre, totally unprecedented. Also, more than ten years after he composed it, the piece still holds such an important place in the heart of its author that he decided to add it into his eighth book of madrigals to pass on its memory.

All the musical programme of the performance stems from this Combattimento : the repertoire comes from the decade that follows, through pages that founded the reputation of this style, but also some rarities. The 1640s are of a rare intensity in the history of music : all Monteverdi’s talent blossoms in his last works but also through everyone who inspired him, beginning with the Roman Luigi Rossi, and his successor in St-Mark’s Basilica, Fracesco Cavalli. They are the heirs of a master who knew their music in his lifetime. All these composers were born within the music of this new era, the latter is natural to them and it flows inside their pens like a mother tongue.

Monteverdi’s genius has come as a short circuit in the progress of western music history, he led it where no one would have ever imagine : it is the black swan theory. Polyphonies from the Renaissance, superb counterpoints of sacred music, of a certain hieratism, Monteverdi has walked into a new era. The visions of this artist, surrounded by a community of thinkers and esthetes who have certainly allowed him to give birth to it, have blown the wind of emotions, theatre, and an expression of the passions that is more visceral. The musical language was totally overwhelmed by this new form : the singer, once one among others, has become the teller at the centre of the attention, and the musicians who surround him are now there to carry, amplify and make his speech resonate.

This Combattimento, beyond the beauty of the music and the intensity of the theatre, makes a posteriori the effect of a manifesto piece of this new world : the story is prioritised before anything else, embodied by a Testo who holds the heart of the narration, the instruments develop a whole accompaniment at his service, launching unprecedented inventions like the impressive stile concitato – an incredible virtuosity symbolising the agitation, the swords and the fight. If we project in the musical world in which Europe grows at that time, this manifesto-piece contrats sharply with the rest, totally shot-circuits history and makes it take another path. It is on these steps that the great inventors of the century will rise.

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