Worth a Reprise at Age 401
By Steve Smith, The New York Times
“Vespers of 1610,” the Monteverdi work, was performed on Sunday at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin by a group that included, from left, Jolle Greenleaf, Molly Quinn and Virginia Warnken.CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times
Almost exactly a year ago, the New York soprano Jolle Greenleaf, the Boston violinist Scott Metcalfe and a couple of dozen close associates from around the country presented the fruit of what they called theGreen Mountain Project: a performance of Monteverdi’s grand and glorious Vespers of 1610, mounted in observance of the work’s 400th anniversary. A tremendous popular and critical success, the concert might have been the culmination of a one-off labor of love.
Instead, evidently, it was the start of a beautiful friendship. On Sunday evening Ms. Greenleaf, Mr. Metcalfe and nearly all the musicians involved in the original Green Mountain Project — its name a play on Monteverdi’s — repeated their feat at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin, near Times Square.
Advance buzz and the lure of free admission (with premium seats available at a cost) attracted a capacity audience, with spectators seemingly jammed into every aisle and galley. With incense and expectation hanging thick in the imposing sanctuary of Smoky Mary’s (as the church is affectionately known), Ms. Greenleaf welcomed the gathered throng to what she said would be an annual event.
Musicians from the Green Mountain Project performing the Vespers of 1610 at the Church of St. Mary the Virgin on Sunday. CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times
Faced with the prospect of yearly visitations, and the attendant risks of routine and overexposure, Monteverdi’s sacred masterpiece is well suited to the challenge. No strict composition, the Vespers — formally titled “Vespro Della Beata Vergine” (“Vespers of the Blessed Virgin”) — is a compilation of Psalm settings, antiphons, motets and other pieces. From these, a Marian vespers service can be devised in a variety of ways, according to scholarship and tradition.
Still, having arrived at a compelling formula for last year’s performance — psalms prefaced by antiphons and followed by motets; intonation pitched a semitone higher than the modern standard — Ms. Greenleaf and Mr. Metcalfe repeated it this year. That consistency surely helped to bind geographically dispersed collaborators into the tightly knit ensemble on display here.
Which is not to say that everything went strictly according to plan. The tenor Aaron Sheehan, having already made a strong impression in the sensual solo motet “Nigra Sum,” ably filled in for a sick colleague in “Duo Seraphim.” Virginia Warnken, an elegant alto, replaced the same absent singer in several ensemble selections on just 24 hours’ notice.
If anyone was nervous about these last-minute maneuverings, it never showed. What came through consistently, in a seamless procession of solemn antiphons, ravishing solos, intricately wound polyphony, buoyant instrumental work and artfully dispersed ensembles, was an intense commitment to bringing Monteverdi’s masterwork to life.
Obviously, no small credit was due to the composer, from whose flamboyant imagination such glories sprang. But in Ms. Greenleaf’s passionate leadership, Mr. Metcalfe’s exacting direction and the meticulous, stylish performances of all assembled, Monteverdi was in exceptionally capable hands.