Concerto delle Donne

Concerto Delle Donne was formed principally to perform the unique Italian vocal repertoire of the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

The title refers to the three celebrated singing ladies of the court of Duke Alfonso of Ferrara in the 1580’s. The Duke was such an enthusiast for the female voice that he gathered together a concerto dell donne comprising the finest sopranos of the day, famed throughout Italy for the beauty of their voices and their ability to execute the most elaborate ornamentation.

Donna Deam (soprano) graduated from Chicago’s Northwestern University with degrees in Church Music and Organ Performance. After being introduced to the ’period performance movement’ via recording, Donna realised she had been bitten by the singing bug. She headed for London to test the waters and has never looked back. She now enjoys a varied career of concert, recital and recording work. She has performed with most of the distinguished British early music ensembles and her work takes her all over the world. In addition to many international radio and television broadcasts, Donna has been involved in over forty commercial recordings and is a featured soloist on more than a dozen. Her time is shared between music and a variety of interests including various areas of complementary medicine with her homeopath husband James, and the search for the ultimate roller coaster.

In her early teens Gill Ross (soprano) became involved in the early music world via the Swansea Bach Week which invited all the most prestigious musicians in that field to lecture and perform. School and the Welsh Eisteddfod tradition also instilled into her a great love of singing with the result that she later gave up teaching to follow a professional singing career. She works with almost all the major Baroque groups in London with whom she has appeared as a soloist on a number of recordings, and her recital repertoire now extends to Romantic lieder and 20th Century American songs.

Alastair Ross (harpsichord) studied at New College, Oxford, where he gained a First in Music in spite of his attention to final exams being threatened by the arrival that summer of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. He then studied in New York and worked as an organist and choirmaster in Connecticut for two years, only returning to England after deciding that possible drafting to the war in Vietnam was not a wise career-move. Alastair has worked for twenty five years as a harpsichordist and organist based in London. He has appeared as soloist with many London orchestras, in the concert hall, for the BBC and on record. He is in continual demand as a continuo player, and has played on over one hundred recordings. With the Brandenburg Consort he has recorded Bach’s 5th Brandenburg Concerto twice, for sound and for video. He also plays with the Academy of Ancient Music and played a Handel Organ Concerto for the BBC with them last May. For the past eight years he has taught and conducted at the Britten/Pears School in Snape on courses devoted to Bach and Handel performance. His solo recitals have included Bach’s Goldberg Variations at the Wigmore Hall. Alastair directed the music at High Wycombe Parish Church and St. Margaret’s Westminster for many years, and enjoyed working with young voices.

Faye Newton studied music at the University of Nottingham and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. She performs regularly with the New London Consort, with whom she has given solo recitals in the Spitalfields Festival, Purcell Room and York Early Music Festival. Faye is a founder member of the award-winning ensemble Concanentes, who specialise in medieval and renaissance repertoire and she formed the duo Trobairitz, (finalist in the Antwerp International Early Music Competition 2000), with vielle player Hazel Brooks to specialise in the courtly song repertory of the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. In the 2006-7 season Faye will be touring in a production of Monteverdi’s Orfeo with the New London Consort, directed by Jonathan Miller.

“The women of the concerto were skilled not only in singing their memorized repertoire, which was extensive, but also in sight-reading polyphonic music from partbooks. Each woman played at least one instrument and was able to accompany herself or the ensemble. The group had few idle hours, for rehearsals and performances occupied from two to six hours a day. In additon, they took part in balletti as both singers and dancers.”

Music for three ladies flourished in mid-17th century Italy. Monteverdi, Marazzoli and Mazzochi left many examples. Carissimi and Rossi wrote music both sacred and secular for this combination of voices, much of it unedited and forgotten until now. Music for three sopranos was also popular in 17th-century France. Charpentier was Organist at the Jesuit Church of Saint-Louis in Paris, known at the time as ‘l’église de l’opéra’ because of its practice of hiring opera singers to maintain the musical quality of its Services! He wrote wonderful music, including a Magnificat and a Mass, for the nuns of Le Port-Royal in Paris. Lully wrote a vast quantity of church music for Louis XIV and among his petits motets are seven exquisite examples for three sopranos.

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