Wigmore Mondays: Roberta Invernizzi – Songs from the Early Italian Baroque

Roberta Invernizzi (soprano, above); Rodney Prada (viola da gamba), Craig Marchitelli (lute, baroque guitar), Franco Pavan (lute)

Caccini Dolcissimo sospiro (1601) (1:54-4:37), Dalla porta d’oriente (1614) (4:39-6:35)
Kapsberger Passacaglia (unknown) (6:45-10:38)
Monteverdi Ecco di dolci raggi (1623) (11:49-14:28), Disprezzata Regina from L’incoronazione di Poppea (1642-3) (14:29-19:25)
Bassani Toccata per B quadro (21:05-22:18)
Frescobaldi Canzone a basso solo (22:20-24:43)
Merula Folle è ben che si crede (1638) (24:58-27:40)
Rossi La bella più bella (27:53-30:42)
Kapsberger Toccata Arpeggiata (31:51-34:27)
D’India Intenerite voi, lagrime mie (1609) (34:56-, Cruda Amarilli (1609) (37:31-40:10)
Monteverdi Si dolce è’l tormento (1624) (41:22-43:33), Voglio di vita uscir (43:37-48:20)

Wigmore Hall, London; Monday 19 November 2018

You can listen to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast by clicking here

Written by Ben Hogwood

If – like me – you know rather less about the music the Italian Baroque than you feel you would like to, this is a great place to start. In the course of a very nicely balanced concert of vocal and instrumental music, soprano Roberta Invernizzi showed off the extent of harmonic daring at work in the 17th century. She did so in a very unfussy way, her voice superbly controlled but also allowing herself plenty of room for expressive freedom, enhanced by gestures to the audience that spoke of nothing but pure involvement.

From left to right looking at the Wigmore Hall stage was the stylish trio in accompaniment – Rodney Prada, with the wonderful sound of his six-string viola da gamba (essentially an early cello), and then the lutenists Craig Marchitelli – a long time accompanist of Invernizzi – and Franco Pavan. They switched between lutes and baroque guitars.

The quartet began with the florid vocal display of Caccini‘s Dolcissimo sospiro (1:54 on the broadcast link), a wonderfully airy rendering, which gave way to the fluid dance of Dalla porta d’oriente (4:39). There followed a surprisingly introspective but harmonically rich Passacaglia from Girolamo Kapsberger (6:45), the lute and baroque guitar down in the lower regions but making an attractive, mellow sound in a superb account from Marchitelli and Pavan.

The flexibility of Invernizzi’s voice was immediately apparent at the start of Monteverdi’s madrigal Ecco di dolci raggi (11:49), a bright song with subtle pointing from the lute and guitar, the viola da gamba joining a little way in. A more dramatic text took hold at 12:55 to the open-stringed twang of the lute. Then at 14:29 we experienced a further dramatic turn, and a more obviously operatic setting for an aria from Monteverdi’s opera ‘L’incoronazione di Poppea’, laden with dramatic tension, with both fret players transferring to theorbos (also a type of lute)

The Bassani Toccata (21:05) began with a lovely, throaty low melody on the viola da gamba, before the Frescobaldi Canzone arrived and took us through more dance-like sections, still in the lower range, and ending in the major key. Invenizzi returned for another beautifully uplifting song where purity of tone and well-judged vibrato mixed freely, Rossi’s La bella più bella a rapturous dance in her hands.

It is amazing how modern some very old music can sound sometimes (to use a huge generalisation!) but Kapsberger’s Toccata Arpeggiata (34:11- could almost be from a recent electronic musician, such is its inventiveness with harmony and texture within the lutes playing it. Although a display piece it also serves as an effective meditation, and the sounds of baroque guitar and lute were mesmerising in the hands of Marchitelli and Pavan.

Two madrigals from Sigismondo d’India followed (34:56), and there was suddenly a very serious tone to Invernizzi’s vocal. These two laments were deeply felt, and again deliberately strained against conventional harmonic resolution so that the tension was heightened throughout. The second, Cruda Amarilli (37:31) had the twang of the lute to accentuate its impact.

Finally we turned to Monteverdi and Si dolce è’l tormento (So sweet is the pain) (41:22), a song with higher notes of striking clarity. This was followed by the distinctive ‘hook’ applied to Voglio di vita uscir (I want to leave this life behind) (43:37), a song that despite its persuasive lilt had a dark side.

For a well-deserved encore, the four performers offered the Caccini song Amarilli mia bella (My Beautiful Amaryllis) (50:37-53:14), capping a performance that, as BBC Radio 3 presenter Andrew McGregor remarked, gave ‘a masterclass in ornamentation’.

Further listening

The music from this concert – most of it available in recordings by Invernizzi herself – can be heard on the playlist below:

Invernizzi has completed a number of discs of Italian song, of which two are below – Songs from Early Baroque Italy:

and Music for Harp and Soprano in early Baroque Rome:

Sara Mingardo sings Italian Laments

Sara Mingardo – Italian Laments at the Wigmore Hall


Sara Mingardo (contralto), Ivano Zanenghi (theorbo), Giorgio Dal Monte (harpsichord) – Wigmore Hall, London, live on BBC Radio 3, 11 May 2015

Listening link (opens in a new window):


on the iPlayer until 10 June


In case you cannot hear the broadcast, I have put together a Spotify playlist of most of the music in this concert, including recordings the artists have made where possible. The playlist can be found here

What’s the music?

Monteverdi (1567-1643): Quel sguardo sdegnosetto; Voglio di vita uscir, voglio che cadano (8 minutes)

Frescobaldi (1583-1643): Toccata Seconda (5 minutes)

Andrea Falconieri (1586-1656): Vezzosette e care pupillette; Non più d’amore (4 minutes)

Giacomo Carissimi (1605-1674): Deh memoria e che più chiedi? (7 minutes)

Alessandro Piccinini (1566-c1638): Toccata XX; Aria di sarabanda in varie partite (6 minutes)

Salvatore (early 1600s -1688): Allor che Tirsi udia (9 minutes)

Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677): L’Eraclito amoroso (6 minutes)

What about the music?

First, a bit about the voice and instruments in this concert. Sara Mingardo is a contralto singer – that is, lower than a soprano and a little bit lower and richer in colour than a mezzo-soprano. Think of a boy alto, add femininity and a lot of body to the sound and you have something approaching her voice.

In this concert she is accompanied by Giorgio Dal Monte, playing a harpsichord from the late seventeenth century, and Ivano Zanenghi, playing a theorbo. The theorbo is a variation on the lute – which, in case you didn’t know, is a very early equivalent to the guitar. This particular instrument is a recreation and has no fewer than thirteen strings! They are spread over two different frets, rather like the instrument pictured here (photo from Early Music Studio:


The music itself is all from the Renaissance and early Baroque periods in Italy. The only composer names likely to be familiar to listeners are Monteverdi and Frescobaldi, both pioneers in their expressive vocal music. The trio perform the music all together, save for a harpsichord solo (the Frescobaldi) and two pieces for the theorbo by Alessandro Piccinini. As you will hear the styles are particularly expressive, particularly in the laments – which most of these songs are.

Performance verdict

If you have yet to see Sara Mingardo perform then I urge you to do so without delay. Everything about her concerts draws the audience in, from the carefully thought out programs to her irresistible performance manner. Everything is delivered with musical freedom, and – text allowing – a modest yet winning smile.

Yet of course the voice is the reason for experiencing Mingardo’s charms in person, for she has an incredibly rich sound especially to the lower register that is rare among singers. Even better, she knows just how to control it.

This concert was beautifully put together and executed, and the laments carried an almost painful intensity that reduced the Wigmore Hall audience to silence. They were countered by airy, improvisatory pieces for harpsichord (Frescobaldi) and theorbo (Piccini) which were stylishly played by Giorgio Dal Monte and Ivano Zanenghi respectively.

This was very much a voyage of discovery, a reminder of just how intense Italian vocal music of the Renaissance and early Baroque periods can be.

What should I listen out for?


1:34 – Quel sguardo sdegnosetto (A message) This song begins with an amiable figure on harpsichord and theorbo. The rhythms have a gentle lilt and the voice, rich and luxurious, uses melisma – which is a form of writing where a single word is spread over a large number of notes.

4:32 – Voglio di vita uscir, voglio che cadano (I want to leave this life, if by loving you I have offended you) A sprightly second song, cheery in spite of its subject matter. Towards the end it takes on sombre colouring as the harpsichord is replaced by the softer tones of the theorbo, and Mingardo sings ‘S’apre la tomba, il mio morir t’annutio’ (‘The tomb opens, I proclaim my death to you’). The control from Mingardo at the end is heartfelt and exquisite.


10:58 – This solo harpsichord piece becomes progressively more elaborate as it progresses. It is not rigid in tempo, which makes it sound improvised, and eventually the writing for right hand sounds like a waterfall of notes.


17:00 – Vezzosette e care pupillette (Bewitching and beloved sparkling eyes) Quite an elaborate theorbo introduction, and Mingardo uses a swooning vocal style here, especially when the text is repeated.

19:48 – Non più d’amore (No more wooing) Another very expressive though song which finds Mingardo in the upper part of her range.


21:26 – Deh, memoria (Say, memory) – a slow introduction reveals the rich tone of Mingardo’s lower range. This is a profound song written in the pain of another’s death, and Mingardo gives a powerful and emotive performance, shadowed beautifully and stylishly by the harpsichord and theobo. The song is especially profound at the end, returning to the singer’s lower range.


29:26 – Toccata XX. This begins almost as though the player was tuning up, with a very relaxed approach. Piccinini makes use of the lowest notes on the theorbo, which gives the music an expansive quality.

31:54 – Aria di Sarabanda in varie partite. The Aria sets out a short loop of music over which there are progressively more complicated variations, rather in the vein of Pachelbel’s Canon which was to follow a number of years later. Some of the variations go up quite high on the instrument.


36:25 – All’hor che Tirsti (When Thyrsis heard) In this declamatory song Sara Mingardo seems to be shaking a fist at the ‘Crudi fati, astri malvagi’ (‘Cruel fates, evil stars’). The accompaniment is initially for harpsichord only, the theorbo making a notable appearance at asdr when Mingardo sings ‘Et tu, caro ben mio’ (‘And you, my dear beloved’). Then she alternates between anger and a deeply mournful tone, with which this extremely expressive song ends.


44:36 – L’Eraclito amoroso (Hear, lovers) There is a florid accompaniment to more cursing of bad fortune. The sobbing nature of melodic writing when Mingardo sings ‘I singulti mi sanano’ (‘Sobs are my healing balm’) is striking. Towards the end Mingardo sings ever so slightly flat, deliberately accentuating the sorrow felt by the subject of the song, before finishing on an extremely low note.


52:31 – Tarquinio Merula (1594-1665) – Folle e ben che si crede. A more relaxed air to this encore, the voice floating on the higher notes. There is a lovely transition where Mingardo arcs gracefully up to a higher note at the end.

For more concerts click here