Monteverdi’s Vespersof 1610, which will bring Garsington Opera’s 30thanniversary season to a close, is an extraordinary work, its operatic qualities making it entirely in keeping with Garsington’s usual fare. At its heart are the Psalms and Responses of the Vespers service – the Catholic Office of Evening Prayer – and these are interspersed with motets, an instrumental sonata and a Magnificat, resulting in a dazzling confection of majestic choruses and sublime solos that are utterly captivating. 

Garsington, as might be expected, has done full justice to this choral masterpiece. From the moment conductor Laurence Cummings intones the opening line of Domine ad adiuvandum, before turning to bring in the chorus and orchestra, there is a sense that this is going to be a memorable experience. And it doesn’t disappoint.

The vast, Cathedral-like space in the famous opera pavilion is fully exploited, with the singers moving seamlessly to different parts of the stage and auditorium, either alone or in groups, to great musical and visual effect. The spine-tingling ‘echoing’ passages are particularly memorable, with an unseen singer, from the top of the auditorium, providing a distant and ethereal presence that is profoundly moving.

The five soloists – sopranos Mary Bevan and Sophie Bevan, and tenors Benjamin Hulett, Robert Murray and James Way – do some sterling work, tackling the complexities of this demanding work with great energy, their voices soaring gloriously to produce some truly exquisite and joyous moments.

The chorus is consistently strong, achieving a wonderfully pure, perfectly-blended sound and singing with eloquence and conviction.

The combined forces of The English Concert and The English Cornett and Sackbutt Ensemble, making their Garsington debut, make a buoyant contribution, while conductor Laurence Cummings – who also joins the continuo by playing harpsichord and organ – is a lively and masterful presence, ensuring a high standard of musicianship and commitment throughout. 

For Garsington Opera, this addition to its choral repertoire – following the success of The Creationin 2016 – this is another triumph.

Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 continues until 26thJuly. Details and booking: www.garsingtonopera.org

Nicola Lisle

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