Death for 5 Voices

Do you remember the first time you saw a Shakespeare tragedy that really got under your skin?  What about Sondheim breaking your heart?

The combination of these two is how I still feel over an hour after seeing Death for 5 Voices at tiny Prospect Theater.  Luscious music that combines the work of the eccentric, depressed Renaissance composer Carlo Gesualdo with new pieces, and the whole work created in about a year.  Remarkable.


The plot comes from Carlo’s history, and it is Shakespearean (his contemporary).  A second son becomes prince upon the death of his brother and is taken out of the priesthood to marry and procreate.  His wife becomes the muse for his music, one of his passions along with hunting.  But his erratic behavior and absences drive her to a lover, his best friend (oh, and they’re all cousins).

Carlo learns of the affair from more Shakespearean tropes–the weak-willed servant, his Lady MacBethian mother, and the opportunistic Cardinal, another relative.  Of course, to preserve the family honor, he arranges to catch them together and kills them.  History tells us not only does he get away with murder, but also marries again.  How’d you like to be that bride?  Sort of like marrying Henry VIII.

This work is basically opera, with spoken and sung English, and it’s beautifully acted as well as sung by its young cast.  At Prospect, the theater is so small, the audience has the treat of hearing real voices, not amplification.  The run for Death for 5 Voices is short, but I’m guessing it’s future is long.