"After speaking with her for one and a half minutes, I knew that I would even sing Heavy Metal for her if she wanted me to," gushed Rolando Villazón after meeting French conductor and harpsichordist Emmanuelle Haïm. Devoted to cultivating the works of Monteverdi, Handel, Rameau and Purcell, the vibrant Haïm has become one of the leading lights of the Early Music scene. Trained as a pianist and harpsichordist in Paris, she assisted William Christie before founding her own ensemble "Le Concert d'Astrée," which performs on historical instruments. Rolando Villazón is better known for his performances as tormented lover and "dream" partner of Anna Netrebko in "La Traviata" and "La Bohème" (both available from UNITEL CLASSICA) than for his accounts of early Baroque music. But in this concert of works by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), the powerhouse tenor proves his all-round mastery of italianità. The main work is the "Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda," a descriptive piece for three voices based on a text from Torquato Tasso's epic poem "Gerusalemme liberata." Joined by Topi Lehtipuu as Tancredi, a Crusader, and Patrizia Ciofi as Clorinda, a Muslim girl, Villazón interprets the role of the narrator with an endless variety of shadings and, of course, his customary intensity. Under Haïm's direction, the orchestra spiritedly interprets the highly florid accompaniment, which stands out for its realistic effects such as the imitation of the trotting of horses and the clashing of swords. The "Combattimento" is supplemented with several airs from Monteverdi's "Scherzi musicali" of 1632, shorter madrigalesque pieces based on humorous texts. Punctuating the program are brief interview excerpts with Villazón and Haïm, who explain their understanding of early music. The concert was
recorded at the "Festival de St. Denis" in the Gothic 12-century cathedral of St. Denis near Paris. This edifice, which inspired the later cathedral of Chartres, provides a dignified background to the contrasting dynamism of Monteverdi's music.