For the love of god
Sacred prayer or steamy love affair? Anniversary concert celebrates music inspired by kings & queens
Some scholars say that The Song of Songs of Solomon focuses on the historic, secular love story between King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The book fills our minds with sumptuous, tender, loving and passionate words — the stuff that makes up a great romance novel.
Yet a sacred reading of these steamy texts of dedication may symbolize something completely different. Some say that the words describe one's connection with God — but I'll leave that up to the reader to decide which fairs a better interpretation.
During the Baroque era, there was a fascination with these poetic verses. Many composers set these allegorical passages to music, yielding variations as plentiful as the devotions they declare.
Ars Lyrica Houston closes its 2012-13 season with "Divine Recreation," a program that offers a tempting treat: Musical settings of the Song of Songs of Solomon and other divinely inspired tunes interpreted by Baroque's famed composers such as Dieterich Buxtehude, Claudio Monteverdi and George Frideric Handel.
Soprano Melissa Givens, who will be featured in the concert, explains that these excerpts celebrate the elements of a relationship, including the initial attraction, pursuit, sexual attraction and union.
"There are about five stories in the universe that we keep retelling. How love can take you to the highest places or make do things you thought you'd never do."
The performance will include an alluring duet from Monteverdi's opera The Coronation of Poppaea. The sultry love affair between Nero, Emperor of Rome, and a young girl, Poppea, isn't related to the text from Song of Songs, but connected to the theme of the evening.
Givens has a personal connection to The Coronation of Poppaea. As a young music student at Rice University, she recalls not being fond of the title role. Years later, however, as she revisits the ambitious score, it has become her most beloved piece to execute. She thinks that's because of a correlation she noticed later in her career and through her work as a teacher.
"There are about five stories in the universe that we keep retelling," Givens says. "How love can take you to the highest places or make do things you thought you'd never do. It's the basis of a lot of our greatest love stories — and you can trace that right back to the Song of Solomon."
In alignment with the theme of devotion, the performance also marks Given's 10-year anniversary collaborating with Ars Lyrica. She affectionately describes her tenure with the group as a family environment teeming with amazing colleagues.
"I've been blessed," she continues. "We're fortunate to be able to perform early music. We've gotten to the point where we get to experience the re-creation of art no matter the repertoire. We communicate this joy. Ars Lyrica was founded on our love for early music, so it's nice to have our next season focus on the subject of love."
Ars Lyrica's desire to bring early music to a community that years ago didn't have a lot of exposure to the genre continues to inspire while growing in popularity.
And just how breathtaking are the words between King Solomon and his Queen, or a Roman Emperor and his beloved when they're set to music? You're invited to find out.
Ars Lyrica will perform "Divine Recreation" on Friday, 7:30 p.m., at the Hobby Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets start at $35, $22 for students, and can be purchased online or by calling 713-315-2525.
The repertoire includes Monteverdi's Pulchra es, amica mea from Vespro della beata Vergine; Frescobaldi's Bergamasca from Fiori Musicali; Monteverdi's Pur ti miro from L'Incoronazione di Poppea; Monteverdi's Nigra sum from Vespro della beata Vergine; Marini's La Foscarina. Sonata a 3 con il tremolo; Schütz's Paratum cor meum, Deus, SWV 257; Buxtehude's Liebster, meine Seele saget, BuxWV 70 and excerpts from Handel's Solomon.