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Ballo Concertato: Magnificat Presents Monteverdi’s Tirsi e Clori

September 4th, 2015

Dance_to_the_Music_of_TimeMagnificat will perform Monteverdi’s Ballo Tirsi e Clori along with other madrigals by Monteverdi and instrumental music by Dario Castello and Biagio Marini on the weekend of September 25-27 2015. Clori will be sung by Jennifer Paulino and Tirsi by Aaron Sheehan. Tickets are available at magnificatbaroque.tix.com, by phone at  (800) 595-4849. To order by mail download this order form (pdf).

Claudio Monteverdi was dismissed from service at the Gonzaga court in Mantua in the summer of 1612, taking up his new position as maestro di capella at the Basilica of San Marco in Venice the following year. While the precise reasons for his dismissal are unclear, the composer had been unhappy with his working conditions for years and had been actively seeking employment elsewhere.

The Gonzagas continued to hold Monteverdi’s music in high regard however and already at the beginning of 1615, the regent Ferdinando Gonzaga sent a letter with an urgent request for a setting of a ‘favola’ by Ferdinando himself to be performed at Carnival. Monteverdi responded that he would “toil away at it harder than you can imagine, sending you by the courier from week to week what I would keep doing from day to day. In spite of Monteverdi’s enthusiasm, the time was simply too short and plans for the new work were postponed indefinitely.

By the fall of 1615, as a result on the ongoing conflict between Savoy and Mantua over the Principality of Monferrato, Ferdinando was forced to assume the full title of duke. Perhaps for festivities surrounding the event of his coronation, he once again requested music from Monteverdi, but this time for a ‘ballet’ on an unspecified topic. In a letter written in November 1615, Monteverdi proposed a pastoral subject in six sections preceded by a dialogue between a shepherd, Tirsi and his beloved nymph Clori. 

The letter goes into considerable detail about the intended performance details, though based the description of the work differs somewhat from the version that was eventually published in 1619 as a “ballo concertato” to conclude the Seventh Book of Madrigals. Towards the end of the letter Monteverdi suggests, ”if you could let the singers and players see [the music] for an hour before His Most Serene Highness hears it, it would be a good thing indeed.” Apparently the preparations were more than adequate and Ferdinando’s response extremely favorable.

The poetry is most often attributed to Alessandro Striggio, a close colleague of Monteverdi’s from Mantua and librettist of L’Orfeo, though there is no direct confirmation of his authorship. In the opening dialogue the two lovers describe the dancing of their fellow shepherds and shepherdesses: Clori encouraging in an eager triple meter, and Clori languidly lamenting that they are the only ones not dancing. They unite in extolling the pleasures of the dance after which they are joined by the other singers and instrumentalists for the ballo. The six sections of the ballo coincide with the six stanzas of heptameter lines that make up the text with meter changes for each stanza matched by changes in the choreography.

Magnificat has programmed Tirsi e Clori twice before. It concluded the program in a set of concerts for the San Jose Chamber Music Society and the San Francisco Early Music Society in 1991, with Susan Rode Morris singing Clori and Kenn Chester as Tirsi. Then in 2002, Magnificat presented the ballo on our own series, with Catherine Webster as Clori and Scott Whitaker as Tirsi.

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