L'Arpeggiata brings "Teatro d'Amore" to the Walt Disney Concert Hall

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Christina Pluhar and L’Arpeggiata. (Photo by Michael Uneffer)

Last week, the world watched, stunned, as America elected Donald Trump to succeed President Obama. Around noon on Election Day here in the US, L’Arpeggiata posted to their Facebook: “Today: watching elections on American TV in the hotel room in Los Angeles… Tomorrow: concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall…” Still bubbling with my own Election Day optimism, I ’Liked’ and commented, “So excited for tomorrow! Hopefully we will be celebrating…!” Not knowing the shock we were in for as poll after poll would announce the major upset just hours later.

In the aftermath of last week’s presidential election, those of us still struggling to make sense of what went wrong continue to search for our silver lining as we face the next four years of uncertainty. Watching CNN that night as I anxiously refreshed the New York Times homepage and other media apps on my iPhone, I couldn’t help but wonder how the members of European chamber ensemble L’Arpeggiata must have felt sitting in their hotel rooms, watching the backlash of our country’s political turmoil play out on-screen. Much like our own homegrown version of Brexit.

“Difficult to go on stage in Los Angeles on a day like this. I can only hope that our music will help to stop the tears on this mournful day in history.” — L’Arpeggiata, November 9, 2016

L’Arpeggiata took the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage the next day, as crowds of anti-Trump protestors marched in the streets and freeways of Downtown LA, rallying in front of City Hall just a few blocks away to denounce the Electoral College’s decision. In an exquisite show of post-election musical solidarity, the ensemble performed Baroque madrigals, traditional Italian folk and love songs under the direction of Austrian theorbo player and harpist, Christina Pluhar.

The audience sat rapt as the instrumentalists filled the cavernous hall with the lush, filigreed sounds of Italian Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi (b. 1567–1743) and his contemporaries: Maurizio Cazzati, Tarquinio Merula, Barbara Strozzi, Giovanni Girolamo Kapsberger and Giovanni Felice Sances. Performing for only their second time at the Walt Disney Concert Hall since Pluhar founded the ensemble in 2000, performances by L’Arpeggiata are rare, not-to-be-missed events since it’s not very often—make that basically never—that period instruments such as the theorbo, the harpsichord, the sonorous cornetto or the chittara battente grace this city’s performing arts stages. Which is unfortunate because there is something so beguiling about the sparse, thought-provoking nature of early music. I wish we’d get to experience it more frequently here in LA.

In the spirit of Baroque improvisation, the ensemble dazzled the audience with colorful renderings of the fiery Tarantella Napoletana and Canario, alternating with somewhat more melancholic but gorgeous vocal works sung by Argentinean soprano Mariana Flores. “What can be done if heaven has no peaceful influence to soothe my sorrows,” she laments in “Che si può fare” by 17th century female composer Barbara Strozzi, whose later body of work was influenced by Monteverdi. But perhaps the most moving performances of the evening were Monteverdi’s own “Si dolce è’l tormento,” with its haunting bass lines for theorbo and ebbing lyrics and melody, along with Sances’s stunning version of Stabat Mater.

Alto Vincenzo Capezzuto sang and danced out delightful folk arrangements meanwhile, closing the night’s encore with a fun, unexpected traditional-Italian-folk-meets-jazz-meets-reggae rendition of “Pizzicarella Mia” that brought the entire Walt Disney Concert Hall crowd to its feet. Altogether, a welcome distraction from our post-election blues.