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1999-2000: Magnificat’s Eighth Season

November 3rd, 2011

Spanning the turn of the millenium, Magnificat’s eighth season featured a variety of styles and included a staged production of Pergolesi’s La Serva Padrona, choreographed performances of two Monteverdi madrigali rappresentativi and a Mass by Frescobaldi. It also included Magnificat’s first encounter with the astonishing music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani that set in motion a decade-long project of performing and recording her complete works.

There are only two singing roles in Pergolesi’s comic intermezzo a willful and beguiling servant Serpina (sung by Jennifer Ellis in Magnificat’s production) and her bumbling master Uberto (sung by David Newman), whom she  tricks into marriage. But this performance also featured Paul Del Bene in the silent role of Volpone, Uberto’s manservant, and his acrobatic hijinks contributed hilariously to the performances that the San Francisco Classical Voice described as a “refreshing blend of silliness, song, and somersaults.” The program included three instrumental works of Pergolesi: a violin concerto that featured Rob Diggins as soloist, the Sinfonia from the opera Lo frate innamorato that served as an overture and a sonata for violin with obbligato cello.

Four the sixth time in eight years Magnificat was invited to appear on the San Francisco Early Music Society series and these performances had a significant impact on Magnificat in the decade that was about to begin. Artistic Director Warren Stewart had been introduced to the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani by soprano Judith Nelson while they were performing at the Bamboo Organ Festival in Las Piñas in The Philippines. Impressed by the overtly sensuous text and passionately expressive harmonic language, Stewart set about assembling an ensemble of eight female voices and continuo to perform a Christmas Vespers.

Following the monastic liturgy for the second vespers of Christmas, the program included four of Cozzolani’s psalm settings (Dixit Dominus, Confitebor tibi, Beatus vir and Laudate pueri) and the first of her two Magnificat setting. In addition five motets (Ecce annuntio vobisBone Jesu fons amoris, Quis audivit unquam tale, Gloria in altissimis, and the extraordinary O quam bonus es) served as proper substitutes.

The chemistry among the eight women was exceptional and the audience response overwhelming and Magnificat was approached by Musica Omnia, a new recording label based in Boston, about the possibility of recording the music. It was only after the tremedous success of the first recording sessions in August 2000 that the plan to record Cozzolani’s complete works was hatched. Notably these concerts marked the Magnificat debut of soprano Catherine Webster, who, together with Jennifer Ellis (later Kampani,) were to become so essential to Magnificat’s sound over the next decade.

Magnificat’s next program featured eight male singers in a reconstruction of Mass for the feast of purification built around Frescobaldi’s rarely performed Missa sopra la Monica, which draws much of its melodic material from the popular tune “La Monica.”  The familiar tune (made famous in the film “Tous les Matins du Monde”) served as basis of countless sets of variations for lute, guitar, and keyboard instruments throughout the seventeenth century. Frescobaldi himself composed two sets of variations on the theme for harpsichord. The mass was preceded by an elaborate processional ceremony involving candles and included several instrumental works and a motet by Frescobaldi and concluded with a setting of the Nunc dimitis by Palestrina.

For the final program of the season, Magnificat once again turned to Monteverdi in a program that featured staged and choreographed performances of two works from the Eight Book of Madrigals, the Madrigals of War and Love. Elijah Chester revived his role as Testo in the Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda and Jennifer Ellis sang the madrigal Chi vol haver felice e lieto il core and Randall Wong and Judith Nelson sang Armato il cor. For the Ballo della Ingrate, Magnificat was joined by Mark Franko’s dance troupe NovAntiqua.Costumes were designed by Callie Flor.

In the spring of 2000, Susan Harvey resigned as co-artistic director and is now on the faculty of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and active as a performer in the Bay Area. Over the course of her last season with Magnificat, she and Warren Stewart directed ensembles that included Cristina Aguirre, Elizabeth Anker, Peter Becker,Meg Bragle, Susan Burke, Zachary Carretin, Elijah Kenn Chester, Karen Clark, Stephen Cresswell, Daria D’Andrea, Mark Daniel, Hugh Davies, Paul Del Bene, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Stve Escher, Ken Fitch, Mark Franko, Andrea Fullington, Boyd Jarrell, Suzanne Elder-Wallace, Jennifer Ellis, Carla Moore,Herb Myers, Juliet Neidish, Judith Nelson, David Newman, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Leslie Streit, David Tayler, Catherine WebsterScott Whitaker, David Wilson, and Randall Wong.

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