English department, Orlando Consort get medieval

by Laura Romain | 2/6/06 6:00am

Nostalgic contrasts between a poetic, damsel-in-distress-riddled past and our own cold, technology-driven world have (rightfully) become cliche, but if your only knowledge of the Middle Ages stems from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," take note: this week, troubadours grace the provenance of BlitzMail and Keystone.

A poetry reading promises to set the scene. On Tuesday at 12:30 p.m., Peter Travis, English Department Chair and Henry Winkley Professor of Anglo-Saxon and English Language and Literature, will host an enthusiastic presentation of Middle English texts in the faculty lounge on the second floor of the Hopkins Center. As additional incentive for you to bring your lunch to a free exploration of the works of Chaucer and Middle Age contemporaries, Travis promises to "read aloud a number of poems in Middle English to give a sense of their variety in sound, form, and subject matter" and to "set aside a few moments to talk about linguistic change, as well as lyrics and culture in the Middle Ages."

The perfect complement to such a poetic lunch break would naturally be a performance of 13th- to 16th-century musical celebrations of food, drink and gustatory delight. Fortunately, the world-renowned Orlando Consort will synesthetically explore "motets, carols and canons about delectable edibles" in Rollins Chapel on Wednesday and Thursday at 7 p.m. The program features the innovative and thematic "digs into the culinary and musical past" of the group's album "Food, Wine & Song," including the gastronomically-inspired music of Guillaume de Machaut, Guillaume Dufay, Loyset Compre, Juan Ponce, Juan del Encina, Heinrich Isaac and Ludwig Senfl.

The Orlando Consort, a British vocal ensemble of countertenor Robert Harre-Jones, tenors Mark Dobell and Angus Smith and baritone Donald Greig, has attracted plenty of praise. The Los Angeles Times raves about the group's "simultaneously ravishing and reverential" style, and the San Diego Chronicle practically rhapsodizes that "the suavity of their sound ... is incomparable. Their singing has a mesmerizing lyrical flow, with exquisite modulations of timbre and volume." The Orlando Consort frequently breaks new ground by consulting linguistic and musical scholars in order to accurately present music that has not been performed for centuries.

The Orlando Consort embraces such acclaim as well as what The Georgia Straight considers "a welcome levity to the often sober world of classical music" by successfully juxtaposing erudition with humor to create its "vocal smorgasbord." The performance's program notes even include historically and musically relevant recipes for split pea soup with confit chicken, haddock in ale, saffron cake and an "orange omelet for pimps and harlots" (with special advice for those "feeling slovenly in the mold of a 'pimp' or 'harlot'"). Above all, the Orlando Consort draws inspiration from the 13th-century French lyrics "I want to eat, sing and make merry -- that's what I like!" to demonstrate the connections between food, music and festivity during a time of "extraordinary artistic events and achievements" -- all without dissonance for audience members who plan to check their e-mail during intermission.

Tickets for Orlando Consort's "Food, Wine & Song: Music and Feasting in Medieval and Early Renaissance Europe" are available through the Hopkins Center box office at $5 for Dartmouth Students and $26 for the public. The performance will be followed by a discussion with members of the ensemble.