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RENAISSANCE MAN

Celebrating Monteverdi’s 450th birthday anniversary this year, John Eliot Gardiner revisits a composer who has been a lifelong inspiration as a fellow musical pioneer. Ash Khandekar meets the conductor as he embarks on an extraordinary musical and intellectual odyssey back to the 1600s, touring Monteverdi’s three surviving operas around the world.
SIM CANETTY-CLARKE

More than half a century ago, a young student of history, Arabic and Medieval Spanish conducted a performance of the Monteverdi Vespers in the chapel of King’s College Cambridge and threw down the gauntlet before the orthodoxy of the ‘English Choral Tradition’, creating a palpable sense of shock and delight.

The 21-year-old John Eliot Gardiner had hand-picked his chorus for that famous occasion, bringing into existence the now worldfamous Monteverdi Choir. True to the spirit of the 1960s, they brought an energetic, youthful and, yes, sexy vigour to music that had until then tended to be performed with po-faced reverence.

Gone were the ‘white’ voices of the treble line, the studied tempi and the mannered phrasing that had caused Monteverdi’s great choral masterpiece to ossify. Instead, Gardiner brought drama, spice, colour and a sense of wide-eyed discovery to the fusty regard of academic investigation that had been cast over Renaissance music for a century and more.

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About Opera Now

Christophe Rousset celebrates a quarter century at the forefront of the Early Music scene with Les Talens Lyriques; Sir John Eliot Gardiner takes Monteverdi’s three surviving operas on tour around the world; and our guide to the brightest and best opera festivals of 2017. Plus, remembering the velvet voice of Swedish tenor Nicolai Gedda; individuality and imagination in the songs of Arthur Sullivan; Debussy’s ravishing Pelléas lets down its hair at Garsington; American baritone Scott Hendricks shares his love of playing bad boys; the art of the librettist; British conductor Nicholas Chalmers; and an 80th birthday tribute to Grace Bumbry.