The Full Monteverdi

Restaurant to screen
December 18, 2006, 3:27 pm
Filed under: Filming

An Ensemble film for an Ensemble

When I originally created The Full Monteverdi, I worked with I Fagiolini’s singers and our choice of experienced actors to devise a whole web of narrative richness for the show. Each couple (made up of a singer and an actor) needed a story that would help create a single line through the 20 numbers that make up Monteverdi’s Fourth book of Madrigals. What we came up with, essentially, was six separate but simultaneous plots (that is, one per couple) of quite different natures but sharing one essential imposed structure.

– The couples would have agreed, coincidentally, to meet in the same restaurant.

– By the time the singing started, each actor had stated that they wanted to end the relationship.

– All but one of the couples would make a last-ditch attempt to solve their relationship sexually. The now infamous “No.16” is one of the most explicitly erotic pieces of music I’ve ever heard – especially when it is shared between believable characters and sung with the desperation suggested in the text.

– All the relationships would fail, with the actors leaving the singers to contemplate their lonely lives.

The reasons for the break-up had to be tough and the stakes had to be high, in order to justify the extremes of emotion in the music. The difference between these reasons, however, created a fantastic tension between the couples – each with its own specific relationship to the music and the text – and very different journeys through the charted route.

Of course, that was the live show, when the audience had at least some sort of view of the whole ensemble, throughout, and was caught up within the vocal polyphony. But how does one re-invent that for the screen? Well it’s an ensemble film and there are plenty of models for that. I can’t think of any that are sung throughout, as a continual reminder of the stories you’re not watching, though.

My initial instinct was, during one of our exhausting tours (and therefore wrong, I hope), that the only way to replicate the show on film would be to employ a 24-style split-screen technique, enabling viewers to keep track of more than one story at once. However, though that might have been very beautiful (it would have been great fun creating a visual counterpoint to the polyphony with the screens), it would have been a very self-conscious conceit. On reflection, I realised that one of the many great strengths of the project was the juxtaposition of high art and real life: any unavoidable conceit would have denied its shattering realism. In any case, the film will not be a replication of the show on screen. It has to work in its own right in a medium poles-apart from the original, using the long life of the show as fantastically well-researched resource.

One massive advantage of film is its ability to tell stories and this lead me to explore the backgrounds of the characters and couples in a way we could never hope to communicate in performance. Why are they breaking up? Has there been an infidelity? Where are they from? What are the repercussions of the stories for the poor individuals involved? The result, on paper at this stage (though more fully realised in my head), follows the same essential structure above but intersperses it with flashbacks – allowing clear and acutely upsetting insight into the lives of the characters on screen. The journeys no longer have to remain within the restaurant either, though I have allowed myself one further conceit – bar the coincidence of the couples being in the same restaurant at the beginning.

If you’re interested in the live show, there’s more to read at


2 Comments so far
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Eight years ago, wWhen John first told me of his idea for a dramatic interpretation of Monteverdi madrigals set in a restaurant, as we munched pizza (pizza seems to crop up quite often in this blog in notice), I thought: “what a superb idea – what theatre, what drama – what a looney: it will very obviously NEVER happen”.

Half a dozen years later I found myself sitting in a church in Brighton eating my words as well as the nibbles on the tables, experiencing, enjoying, admiring, and above all being very moved by, The Full Monteverdi. It was very wonderful on a whole number of levels: a beautifully-sung performance; a series of small and moving domestic dramas that turn the madrigals into theatre, not just a concert; and furthermore these dramas occur in a space that the audience share – indeed initially they don’t even know who is a performer, and who is just a fellow audience member, which is unsettling and exciting in equal measure.

I shall follow this blog keenly, and look forward to seeing the final film. And look forward to the sequal: Monteverdi’s Flying Circus.

Baritone Bill

Comment by Baritone Bill

Is it really that long ago? Ouch.

Comment by John La Bouchardière

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