Combat + Lament: Works by Monteverdi, Auerbach, and Berio
Trinity College Chapel
27 April 2018 . 19h00


Claudio Monteverdi, Lamento d’Arianna
Luciano Berio, Sequenza III
Lera Auerbach, Lament
Claudio Monteverdi (arr Goehr), Lamento d’Arianna
Claudio Monteverdi, Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda



A Series of Solos

In this series of works for solo female voice—Claudio Monteverdi’s Lamento d’Arianna, Alexander Goehr’s arrangement of this same work, and Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III—we are presented with three approaches not only to the female voice, but also to scale, quality, and energy. Each work presents its own world, and each singer proves well-matched to the respective demands and delights. As such, one of the main directorial themes has been that of framing: how do we present and position each work so that the individual works act both independently and in correspondence with one anothe r? In addition to investigations in narrative, temperament, and meaning, we have also given particular attention to the architectural setting of the space, and the way that we project and control our energy. Indeed, energetics has been a particularly interesting focus for the laments, abstracted from their larger (and, such as in the case of Monteverdi, unrecoverable) contexts; we have striven especially to understand the ways in which physical processes of focus, posture, and repetition can enable us to emit, focus, withhold, shrink, usettle, confuse, and clarify salient aspects of these works, sometimes in line, and sometimes underlining, their more traditional manifestations.

Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda

In Claudio Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, we are presented with the devastating story of Tancredi and Clorinda, who meet one another on the edges of the battlefield at dusk for a duel to death. The story is made tragic through the hubris that drives them to forego opportunities to reveal themselves to one another, ego denying the knowledge that would not only prevent Tancredi from unknowingly battling a woman, but the very woman with whom he has fallen in love. While the original story is pointedly historical — crusades, Christianity, and conversion are main themes — a broader lesson of (not) knowing the other is poignant. Indeed, Combattimentoasks important questions about who the “other” really is, drawing out the complicated and often double nature between friend and foe, neighbour and stranger, lover and enemy. Through the blindness caused by Tancredi and Clordina’s stubborness and myopia, we are witness to an unravelling of one’s enemy as an unravelling of oneself, prompting us to reconsider some of the most urgent questions of our own fraught times about perspective, politics, and the place of pride.

– Sasha Amaya


Claudio Monteverdi and his contemporaries would have been familiar with the story of Arianna—whose heart-broken lament we hear in two versions in this programme—from the late 16th century Italian translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses by Andrea dell’Anguillara. In this translation, Arianna’s tale was accompanied by a warning:

‘Let this story of Arianna be a document to incautious women that they should not wish to believe the promises of those who appear to love them, because they run the risk of throwing themselves into the arms of faithless and ungrateful young men, by whom they are, with greatest infamy, often ruined.’

The other woman we encounter in this programme, the warrior Clorinda in ll Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorindaseems at first to be the opposite of Arianna. Not trusting her opponent, she refuses to reveal her identity. In fact, Tancredi has seen her before on the battlefield and fallen in love with her—had he known who she was, he would surely not have fought her to the death. But perhaps both women have realised the same thing: when Arianna asks to die, and Clorinda accepts death at the end of her tale, both have acknowledged that love and trust have the potential harm—and both have decided not to accept a world in which this is the case.

We have chosen to pair these two Monteverdi vocal works with Luciano Berio’s Sequenza III for solo female voice. The pairing is not arbitrary: in 1967, one year after composing the Sequenza III, Berio himself arranged and conducted a performance of Monteverdi’s Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda in Cambridge (Massachusetts). Although Berio’s vocal style seems a break from the past, the woman’s struggle to express herself resonates with Tancredi and Clorinda’s inability to connect. Listening to Berio’s Sequenza alongside the Lamento d’Arianna—which reminds us of the many musical laments that would follow, from Dido to Isolde—also calls us to listen to the Sequenza as a lament.

It is no coincidence that all these laments are sung by women. Suzanne Cusick, in her analysis of Arianna, suggests that ‘femaleness and beauty… is inextricable from, even dependent on, [the] ability to lament’. And indeed, the sound of the female voice in general has a tortured history in our society, fraught by associations with hysteria and cacophony, and also with seduction and deception. As Anne Carson puts it, ‘putting a door on the female mouth has been an important part of patriarchal culture from antiquity to the present day’. The door not only silences but also separates, like the door that guards Clorinda from the outside world—seemingly to protect but eventually to endanger. We use this programme to ask musically: what happens when we remove that door, and bring women’s laments into conversation with each other?

– Naomi Woo

Click here for more information.