Newberry Consort closes season in high Venetian style

Sat Apr 13, 2024 at 11:12 am

By Tim Sawyier

“Tintoretto Painting His Dead Daughter” by Léon Cogniet, 1843.

The Newberry Consort is wrapping their season with a trip to Venice. In collaboration with musicians from Incantare Friday night at Roosevelt University’s Ganz Hall, Newberry offered “Il Furioso! Music Influenced by the Life & Art of Jacopo Tintoretto.” The program ended artistic director Liza Malamut’s second year at the ensemble’s helm with the blend of rarefied musicianship and scholarship that has defined the group over the years, and particularly under her young tenure.

The conceit of the program was an ongoing conversation between Tintoretto (played by tenor Matthew Dean) and his daughter and muse Marietta Robusti (mezzo soprano Allison Selby Cook), discussing their lives and the happenings of 16th-century Venice. The spoken dialogue, written by Malamut, was at times stilted—“Surely now I will be commissioned to paint these historic events”—but just as often genuinely amusing, as when Marietta chides her father for some of his questionable business practices, and even moving, as when Tintoretto reflects on his daughter’s early death. 

This discussion framed sets of three or four numbers, each capturing some aspect of the Venetian Renaissance—military conflict, the Plague, the place of women artists, etc.—framed by Tintoretto and Robusti’s disquisitions.

The musicianship was on the sustained high level one has come to expect from the Newberry Consort under Malamut. The Newberry and Incantare musicians fielded a consort of two violins, viola (Cook doing double duty), cornetto, three trombones, and continuo, that collectively performed with intelligence and stylistic grace.

Violinist and Incantare founding member Alice Culin-Ellison cantered nimbly in the florid interpolations of Bassano’s “Susanne un jour,” and cornetto specialist Kiri Tollaksen played with poise and assertion at the top of the brass section. Continuo stalwarts Brandon Acker and Craig Trompeter on lute and viola da gamba, respectively, provided solid grounding with harpsichord and organist Naomi Gregory. Acker brought a bardic air to Bianchini’s “La cara cossa,” with Trompeter deftly answering with Diego Ortiz’s virtuosic elaborations on that melody.

Malamut led her trombone colleagues Ben David Aronson and Garrett Lahr with burnished timbre, supporting Culin-Ellison in Zarlino’s sombre air “Manus tuae,” which followed Tintoretto’s spoken meditation on his daughter’s premature passing.

The vocal contributions were similarly accomplished. Cook and Dean were joined by soprano Hannah De Priest, countertenor Reginald Mobley, and bass Daniel Fridley to form a standout consort. Their five voices were perfectly balanced in Maddalena Casulana’s a cappella “Dolce e vaghi augelletti,” and they formed an organic whole with their instrumental counterparts in larger selections by Gabrielli, Gastoldi, and Guami. De Priest stood out in the evening’s lone solo aria, Leonora Orsina’s “Per pianto la mia carne,” beautifully capturing the feel of this sighing lament over Acker’s lute accompaniment.

Tintoretto’s artwork provided a smorgasbord for historian and longtime Newberry projectionist Shawn Keener. Many of her projections focused on thoughtfully selected details of the Venetian’s large canvases. Seeing these blown up on a screen allowed one to appreciate the exceptional intricacy of his work, which seemed to provide a visual analogue to the elaborate counterpoint of the Venetian composers.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Hyde Park Union Church, and 4 p.m. Sunday at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Evanston.

Posted in Performances

Leave a Comment