Shakespeare's iPod
Tuesday, January 16, 2007 at 09:31AM
Stephen Brookes

January 16, 2007

The Washington Post 1/16/07:

What would Shakespeare have had on his iPod?

Ellen Hargis
Probably the 16th century's equivalent of today's Top 40, to judge by a fascinating recital on Sunday night by early music soprano Ellen Hargis and lutenist Paul O'Dette, presented by the National Gallery of Art in conjunction with the Shakespeare in Washington Festival.

Shakespeare was deeply familiar with the music of his day, and references to popular songs -- sometimes just a title or the words to a refrain -- run throughout his works. And as Hargis explained, finding those original songs and bringing them to life again evokes the unique flavor of the times -- from the dark lament "Complain, My Lute" (a kind of Elizabethan precursor to "While My Guitar Gently Weeps") to the funny, upbeat "My Lord Willoughby's Welcome Home."

Hargis has made a specialty of 17th- and 18th-century song, and has a light, clear voice that suits this music extremely well. These are intimate, rather than opulent, songs; their power comes from their quiet, human grace. And Hargis sang them with an effortless beauty, with just a hint of vibrato here and there, minimal ornamentation, and a natural, unforced sense of drama.

Paul O'Dette
Paul O'Dette is one of the finest lutenists in a world rather pleasantly crowded with them, and with his English-sheepdog-on-a-windy-day persona, even looks like an Elizabethan musician. Despite the merciless acoustics of the West Garden Court -- which tend to swallow delicate instruments -- O'Dette accompanied Hargis with precision and wit, and soloed with instrumental music from several of Shakespeare's plays, including "A Midsummer Night's Dream" and "Romeo and Juliet."

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