On a warming evening in July only a few seats remain unoccupied in Urbino’s San Francesco church. Audience members sit transfixed, straining their necks up toward a balcony high above the altar as seven young men crowd into a tiny space to perform Bella Gerit, a Renaissance song cycle dedicated to Lorenzo de’ Medici, Duca di Urbino. The voices weave and exchange leitmotifs as though they are a single instrument. And that’s exactly what they are – single voices retooled for Renaissance polyphony, an instrument reigniting modern audiences’ passions for a music rarely heard.
The group has no formal name, but they are musical friends who continuously redefine their exciting careers as Urbino’s most accomplished – and daring – vocal innovators. Unique in all of Italy, the performers switch musical styles and accompaniments without tunnel vision. Rather than being consumed with Italian Opera or Renaissance music alone, they jam on drums and guitar to Lady Madonna on one night and turn around and single Baroque the next for five hours non-stop.
Angelo Bonazzoli with his castrati soprano; Mauro Borginoni, a baritone with a voice that would melt the hardest heart; David Monacchi, an eco-acoustic composer and co-producer of Bella Gerit; and two brothers, Simone and Enea Sorini, tenor and baritone, respectively, form the singing core for Bella Gerit. Led by Simone Sorini, a vocalist trained in opera at the Rossini Conservatory (Pesaro), the group performs ancient and modern music with organist Wilem Peerik and David Yacus on base and tenor trombone. Only the trombone is an exact copy of an instrument 400 years old. As Yacus plays it, the trombone becomes integral with human voices, so at times they form one tapestry of sound. Simone Sorini, with his mop of salt-and-pepper hair and a hand and voice that ‘shape’ the phrases of music as he sings, collaborates with David Monacchi on Bella Gerit and many other compositions.
Monacchi and Simone Sorini have been friends for more than 20 years. Over the past three and half, the two have assembled a production team to execute their most ambitious project yet – a multimedia opera known as De Divina Proportione (The Divine Proportion). The multimedia opera uses unique compositional techniques that incorporate electro-acoustic sounds and computer-based music mixed with baroque instruments, 3-D projections and two gorgeous operatic voices who sing verses from a 16th century chorale. The collective sounds race around the performance space from a system of eight speakers circling the patrons. Each of the speakers is placed strategically throughout the theatre, so that when the sound moves from speaker to speaker, it produces a “surround sound” enveloping the audience. First performed in the Teatro Sanzio in Urbino in June 2009, De Divina Proportione was an immediate sensation. The musicians are planning to re-do the production for Italy and the international circuit, although they are staying mum about a schedule while production details are worked out.
The July performance of Bella Gerit, part of Urbino’s annual Festival of Ancient Music, was clearly a highlight for both musicians and the audience. Although the men were dressed starkly in modern black, their sounds, so ethereal, seemed to reawaken all the angels of musical performance from Urbino past.
“The Sorini brothers provide information about the pieces (and instruments) that people are about to listen to,” said Alessandro Lodi, a University of Urbino economics student and music admirer. “That’s why it’s so important the way Simone performs. [He and his brother] are the most representative of this place. They are born in this place. They don’t come from outside, and because they are born in the culture of Urbino, they are very important to this community,” Lodi said.