Notre Dame alum conducts an emotional performance
Claudio Monteverdi is a famous Italian composer; his Selva morale e spirituale, however, is not a famous piece. Thus, it fit perfectly into the mission of Seraphic Fire, an ensemble of singers and instrumentalists. This ensemble, conducted by 2000 graduate Patrick Dupré Quigley, holds as their mission “to present high-quality performances of under-performed music with cultural significance.” With such a mission, the conductor returned to his alma mater on February 24 to present a rendition of Monteverdi’s Selva morale.
The ensemble was relatively few in number, counting only fourteen—eight singers, five instrumentalists, and Quigley himself. The small size, however, injured in no way the performance or range which the ensemble. Though it is true that the sound was noticeably thinner than that from a full orchestra or choir, clear and distinct sounds still filled the concert hall for the duration of the performance. Moreover, the modest numbers lent the ensemble ample space on the stage to augment their music with movement.
The first is the highlight of the lute, played by John Lenti. This instrument is central to Monteverdi’s Selva Morale; Lenti performed more than any other member of the ensemble, and the thin instrumental accompaniment allowed for the distinctive twang of the lute to be prominent throughout the entire performance. Lenti met this call for endurance with exceptional skill, securing that his lute was one of the highlights of the night.
Additionally, the minimal choir granted each of the singers ample space to utilize the stage, adding their body language to their voice to create a truly captivating experience. The most riveting piece of the night was Chi voi che m’innamori, an Italian song of three stanzas. Each stanza ended with opposing joy and sorrow. The first stanza ended, “Oggi si ride [today we laugh] … e poi, domani, si piange [and then tomorrow we weep],” and the trio of alto Doug Dodson, tenor Patrick Muehleise, and bass Steven Eddy moved which such joy as they sang of laughter, and stalled to such sorrow when they sang of weeping, that the audience could not help but to be drawn into these emotions.
This excellent use of space and movement undoubtedly had its birth from Quigley himself. His conducting style was so vibrant and fluid that the only word to describe it is childlike. The way which Quigley swayed back-and-forth, noticeably shifting his weight as if he were dancing while he queued each of his performers, was so vivacious that it was like watching a young and joyful soul at play.
Depth of emotion was added not only through this propensity of movement, but also through the extraordinary skill of the instruments. The organ, played by Justin Blackwell, was played in such a way that it was unobtrusive yet vastly important; it was the field on which the rest of the music was played. The cello, Guy Fishman, performed a similar role of background accompaniment as the organ, but in a more perceivable way.
The violins, Sarah Darling and Laura Rubinstein-Salzedo, were frequently used to add depth by mirroring the pitch of the singers: when the singers were sad, they deepened the despair; when happy, they heightened the joy. That being said, they were most memorable after the aforementioned Chi voi ch minnamori, which ends “e poi domani si muore! [then tomorrow we die!].” Following this declaration of death, the violins play slow and somber, unaccompanied by voice, enveloping the audience with the sounds and emotions of death.
Perhaps the most profound moment of the entire performance occured in the closing seconds. The closing song, Dixit Dominus Secondo, concludes with a traditional doxology, sung clearly by the sopranos Margot Rood and Meredith Ruduski. Yet, when the song arrives to the “et semper et in saecula saeculorum [and always and forever],” the entirety of the choir joins in a layered and complex conclusion, highlighting the volume and gravity of the words being sung.
Seraphic Fire’s performance was a part of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center’s Presenting Series, and was co-sponsored by Notre Dame’s program in Sacred Music.
Evan Holguin is a senior in the Program of Liberal Studies. He recently received a signed copy of Audrey Assad’s newest album, Evergreen. You can ask him about it, or Seraphic Fire’s performance, at email@example.com.