The first word of the title characterizes the work, a staging; the “soul“ and the “body“ are the two main characters, representing the two sides of Everyman (as John Bunyan would have called him), debating with himself on the meaning of life. In the first act, Reason argues for future happiness rather than present pleasure. The second act puts Good Counsel in a debate against Pleasure with considerable help from Guardian Angel. In the third act, Reason presents the delights enjoyed by the heavenly spirits while Good Counsel displays the torments of the damned, leaving no doubt about the outcome. Soul and Body participate in the discussion throughout.
Emilio de' Cavalieri (1550-1602?) invented a new art form when he wroteRead more this work for the Carnival of 1600, a blending of the devotional laude with the rappresentatione sacra, or devotional play. It was the first entertainment set entirely to music, and the first printed music to use figured bass. But the work is unique, for later sacred works were unstaged (oratorios), while the stage was given over to secular subjects (operas).
The piece has hardly been neglected. The opening solo (the only appearance by the character known as Tempo, or Time) was recorded at the end of the 78-rpm-era by bass Giuseppe Modesti. A substantial version was recorded by the Société de Musique d'Autrefois with period instruments under Pierre Chaulé during a performance on December 2, 1954; the eminent Félix Raugel was the artistic adviser. While it was described as only slightly cut, it fit on one 12“ LP side. The first complete recording under Charles Mackerras for Archiv in 1971 followed a highly successful period-instrument production (with Salzburg's regular opera stars) at the Salzburg Festival, but it was much more like the lavish Florence production which followed the first simple presentation in Rome, preferred by the composer. The next version under Hans-Martin Linde for the Reflexe series in 1976 was more stylish, using Montserrat Figueras and other specialist singers, but it was burdened by the heavy hand of the conductor. Recently, Stradivarius issued a version directed by Marco Lunghini (not submitted for review).
This version comes from Magnificat, a vocal and instrumental ensemble from the Bay Area founded in 1989 by Warren Stewart and Susan Harvey. Seven voices and four instrumentalists take part in this recording, assisted by The Whole Noyse, an instrumental ensemble of five players from the Bay Area, and the two guest stars. It has been too long since the last recording by Judith Nelson came this way; Paul Hillier, on the other hand, keeps busy with more groups than I can count, and the results, as with Nelson, are always dependably excellent. This version matches the description of the Rome performance in the notes.
Susan Harvey's notes are so informative that it would have been tempting to quote them at length. But she concludes by assuming that late twentieth-century audiences are too disadvantaged by our own times to enjoy the allegorical presentation of the eternal truths. I'd like to think otherwise. This text is actually not a Catholic or even Christian interpretation, but rather a Humanist view of eternal life. Anyone who immerses himself in the unfolding of this allegory might very well be, as its first audiences were, “moved to tears and laughter,“ as the composer reported. The performance is exquisite—it gives Pleasure as much opportunity to seduce the listener as it gives to the Soul to refute its enticements. The text comes with Ms. Harvey's excellent translation.
The engineering, done at St. Vincent's chapel in San Rafael, is spectacular. There are spatial effects, mostly of coming and going, and overwhelming sound effects like opening and closing the gates of Hell when the damned are interviewed. Every singer is superb, and the players are their equal. This is not to be missed.
Rappresentatione de Anima, et di Corpoby Emilio de Cavalieri Performer:
Paul Hillier (Bass),
Neal Rogers (Tenor),
Nathaniel Watson (Baritone),
Elisabeth Engan (Soprano),
Ruth Escher (Soprano),
Andrew Morgan (Tenor),
Hugh Davies (),
Boyd Jarrell (),
Judith Nelson (Soprano)
The Whole Noyse,
Period: Baroque Written: 1600; Italy Date of Recording: 1994 Venue: St. Vincent's School, Marinwood, CA Length: 68 Minutes 37 Secs. Language: Italian