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Robert Hollingworth and I Fagiolini in new Gesualdo theatre project

Posted on 22 May 2015

Reader in Music Robert Hollingworth and his vocal ensemble I Fagiolini have just unleased a major new project designed to bring audiences the intensity of the avant-garde music of Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo.

In May 2015, ten years after The Full Monteverdi (described by The Times as "one of the most surprising music-theatre hits of the decade"), I Fagiolini and director John La Bouchardière present their long-awaited follow-up - Betrayal: a polyphonic crime drama. 

In a new production commissioned by Barbican Centre London and supported by Arts Council England, I Fagiolini's six a capella singers and six contemporary dancers are completely immersed in a promenading audience.  Over the course of an hour, the stories of six murders are told through Gesualdo's intense and unsettling music.  (Gesualdo is famous for the pre-meditated murder of his wife and her lover: see

Music director Robert Hollingworth said: "Gesualdo’s music still holds a fascination for audiences: polyphony built on shifting harmonic sands, by far and away the most extreme example of a school of composers that depicted poetic images by extreme gestures.  More than 400 years after it was written, it still surprises and shocks."

Director, John La Bouchardière said: "We’re approaching Gesualdo’s strange and agonizing harmonies through the kind of thinking that seems to have plagued his life.  I’ve taken some of his darkest and most extreme madrigals, and punctuated them with motets and the shadowy ‘Tenebrae’ for Holy Week to form the structure of a contemporary crime drama.  As in The Full Monteverdi, the audience will be immersed in the music and action, but this time they’ll be in murky warehouses and car parks, and be able to follow the performers around.  The details of the stories will be devised in rehearsals.  As the singers and dancers uncover terrible truths, they’ll draw the audience into their harrowing conflicts and, we hope, reveal a disturbing logic to Gesualdo’s music."

This new piece of immersive music theatre is set to the unsettling music of Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo and fuses unaccompanied singing with contemporary dance in hidden corners of real-life urban locations.  Betrayal’s world première was presented by the Barbican at Village Underground in Shoreditch on May 13-15 and at Cambridge Junction as part of Cambridge Early Music on May 20-22. On June 3-5 it will be in a multi-storey car park at Ageas Salisbury International Arts Festival.  

Commenting on the commission, Huw Humphreys, Barbican Head of Music, said: "The Barbican and I Fagiolini share a commitment to exploring adventurous ways of presenting classical music to new audiences.  We’re delighted to build on the success of projects like How like an Angel in pioneering the innovative presentation of early music in radical, new and cross-artform ways.  The warehouse environment of Village Underground is perfect for this site-specific re-imagining of Gesualdo’s music as a gritty crime drama."