Newberry Consort | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Newberry Consort 

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The commonplace notion that until the 1800s music was exclusively a men's domain couldn't be further from the truth. Ever since the medieval abbess Hildegard of Bingen--and perhaps even earlier--there's been a long line of women composers who wrote works of exceptional quality. This Newberry Consort showcase spotlights three such exemplars from 17th-century Italy. Francesca Caccini (1587-1640) studied with her famous composer father Giulio and mastered a variety of instruments. A gifted singer and a highly paid Florentine court musician, she specialized in madrigals, canzones, and court entertainment. She also wrote the first Italian opera performed outside Italy. Barbara Strozzi (1619-64), the adopted daughter of Venetian humanist poet Giulio Strozzi, was lavishly praised for her vocal artistry (and her looks). A pupil of Cavalli's, she set many of her father's poems to music and experimented with large-scale cantatas. Her melodies are appealing and shapely, full of imaginative touches. Her fame as a virtuoso was international, and like Caccini, she was an expert at exploiting the beauty of human voices. Isabella Leonarda (1620-1700) was a nun who penned more than 200 works, including solo motets. An innovation of hers was to use violins to reinforce the voices. Also on the program is early-17th-century male composer Tarquinio Merula, whose instrumental works, says the Newberry's Mary Springfels, were on the cutting edge. Sopranos Ellen Hargis and Emily Van Evera are featured. Saturday, 8 PM, Scottish Rite Cathedral, 935 N. Dearborn; 943-9090, ext. 310.

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