I Fagiolini & Robert Hollingworth


***** Spitalfields Festival, Wiltons Music Hall, London

 The Times
12 June 2006
Richard Morrison

Robert Hollingworth’s virtuoso vocal group I Fagiolini concocted one of the most surprising music theatre hits of the decade when they turned a book of early 17th century madrigals into  The Full Monteverdi: an interlocking series of increasingly violent rows between six pairs of lovers, staged in a restaurant.  Their new one-hour show, Monteverdi: The Flaming Heart, doesn’t attempt to dramatise the Mantuan master’s madrigals to anything like the same extent.  And whereas The Full Monteverdi was sung unaccompanied and from memory, this show is much more a concert experience, with a ten-strong group of strings and continuo instruments accompanying the seven voices, and all the performers using scores.

To that extent, I Fagiolini’s many admirers may be slightly disappointed.  Yet this show, presented by Spitalfields Festival, is vibrantly and virtuosically sung and far from static in presentation.  Sometimes the singers are arrayed antiphonally on the facing balconies of this wonderfully mottled Victorian music hall.  Sometimes, as in the Prologue to Monteverdi’s first opera, L’Orfeo, the singer moves, cabaret-style, around the orchestra ­– even perching on Hollingworth’s harpsichord stool.

And just once, but to stunning effect, the singers come into the centre of the audience, and deliver the greatest of all Monteverdi laments – Incenerite spoglie , with its six sombre stanzas of heartbreaking harmonies and remorseful declamation – mere inches from where we are sitting.  As with The Full Monteverdi, the audience is made to feel that it is actually inside the music: stung by the biting discords, caressed by the velvety sonority of the consolatory consonances, haunted by the anguished chromatic lines, astonished by the sudden darts of harmonic daring, invigorated by the syncopated dance rhythms, and finally overwhelmed by the intensity of these miniature choral-dramas.

You could live to be 150 and still not know the “full” Monteverdi. Like Leonardo or Shakespeare, he discloses a new glint to his genius each time you look.