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Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610

Ambitious Production of Early Baroque Work Pulls Out All the Stops at Marigny Opera House

Starting Thursday night, Dec. 12, the Marigny Opera House hosts a production of a rarely performed early Baroque work of monumental scale. Featuring 13 singers, 13 musicians, 9 dancers, costumes, and light projections, Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 gets its New Orleans due con brio.


On Monday evening, just before 8 pm, the Marigny Opera House was bustling with activity and warmth. Reverberating throughout the non-denominational “Church of the Arts” was the electrified sounds of dancers stretching, musicians tuning up, chairs and stage lights being arranged and rearranged. The one person standing still, quietly contemplative amid the growing hubbub, was Dave Hurlbert, founder and Executive Director of the Marigny Opera House. He was beaming.


“The acoustics of the space are perfect,” he said as the ensemble of musicians began playing. “It’s perfect.”


Three days before the opening night performance, Hurlbert was witnessing the project finally coming together. This ambitious production of Vespers, opening Thursday, December 12 at 8 pm, was a year in the making—born out of a conversation he had with multitalented Francis Scully (Music Director and conductor of New Resonance Orchestra) and soprano Mattea Musso (Vocal Director). All three shared a passion for Monteverdi’s music and essentially threw reason to the wind when dedicating themselves to the project.


“If we tried to do a budget, it never would have happened,” Hurlbert said. “We committed before we figured out funds.”


One of the reasons Vespers is so rarely performed is the scale involved. When the work was first put on in 1610, it was one of most challenging works of its time. The composer was the gifted Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) who was responsible for refining opera into a major art form and marking the change from the Renaissance to Baroque period in music. His genius is notable in Vespers, which introduced the latest, secular musical ideas into ecclesiastical music.


The masterwork is composed around 13 Biblical Latin texts originally used as part of a liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church, but Monteverdi’s take is essentially individual and modern. The Marigny Opera House’s production takes this liberal approach even further, expanding the interpretation to celebrate the sun’s return during the upcoming winter solstice. They also introduced a new element to the proceedings: dance.


“We didn’t want a static performance,” Hurlbert said, “so we contacted Diogo [de Lima]. It was his idea for the presentation and costumes.”


Diogo de Lima is the Stage Director and Choreographer who composed the moves and steps for the 90-minute piece. Using nine dancers, as well as directing the overhead projections, de Lima has been rehearsing for over a month with some of the most talented dancers in the region. Two of them, Donna Crump and Maya Taylor, are stipend-winners who choreographed pieces for the New Dance Festival last September.


The musicians and singers pooled for the production are made up of both new faces and well-established players. Several members of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra can be found in the ensemble. In the back, on organ and harpsichord, is Todd Simmons, Executive Director of the New Orleans Opera Association.


In the choir, Musso is only one of the city’s vocal stars. Standing next to her is Kathleen Westfall, director at The 9th Ward Opera Company. Also among the singers is Leonard Raybon, director of the Tulane choral program.


“We brought out the heavy weights,” said Hurlbert, with a smile.


According to Hurlbert, however, the immense accumulation of talent wasn’t the only thing keeping the project going. The “magic” of New Orleans also reared its head.


Take the harpsichord, for instance. As late as last week, the production was still without the essential instrument, and a dragnet commenced that spanned the state. The closest one they found was located in Lafayette, but there was an issue with transportation and resources. Just when it was beginning to look grim, one was found—and only a couple blocks away. They simply carried it over.


“Well this is New Orleans, so oddly enough, magic happens," Hurlbert said. "The fact that we’re doing this is a miracle.”


Claudio Monteverdi’s 90-minute Vespers of 1610 begins at the Marigny Opera House (725 St. Ferdinand St.) Thursday, December 12 and continues through Saturday, December 14. All three shows begin at 8pm. Tickets for general seating are $30 and $20 for students and seniors. For more information, visit the Marigny Opera House’s website or call (504) 948-9998.

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