To open its 45th season, the Chamber Singers of Iowa City present “Singing the Bard” at 3 p.m. Nov. 8 at First Presbyterian Church, 2701 Rochester Ave. in Iowa City.
Beginning with works published in Shakespeare’s time and continuing through the modern era with works by Ralph Vaughan Williams, the Singers trace nearly 400 years of music based on Shakespeare’s work. So keen was his observation and description of human behavior that the literary critic Harold Bloom declares Shakespeare to be “the first psychiatrist.” He not only described the triumphs and foibles of the folk of his time but expanded the local into the global, making his characters timeless.
The careful reader will note several titles that are repeated. Again, due to Shakespeare’s skill, these variations provide intriguing comparison and contrast to one another; some fast, some slow, some witty, some somber.
Composers Thomas Morley, Benjamin Cooke and Charles Wood lead off the concert with pieces that many concertgoers will recognize: “It was a Lover and His Lass,” “Hark, Hark the Lark” and “Full Fathom Five.”
Next is “Ye Spotted Snakes” from Felix Mendelssohn’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Act II, Scene 3. Kristen Eisenhammer and Emily Rauch superbly play the first and second fairy parts. If one is squeamish about slithery things, beware, as this could get a bit, um, slithery.
Three madrigals by Emma Lou Diemer follow: “Take, O Take Those Lips Away,” with its pleading tone and sense of loss, reminds us that love can be fickle and one must be careful of promises. “O Mistress Mine, Where Are You Roaming?” is a reminder — and a lusty plea — that life is short, and that youth and beauty won’t last forever.
“Sigh No More, Ladies, Sigh No More!” from “Much Ado About Nothing” reminds women that — of course — men are not worth worrying about: “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more; Men were deceivers ever; One foot in sea and one on shore, To one thing constant never; … And be you blithe and bonny; Converting all your sounds of woe Into Hey nonny, nonny.” “Hey nonny, nonny,” by the way, is an Elizabethan term used to help a line rhyme and a meter match up as it should.
Colin Wilson, tenor soloist, will be featured in “Shakespeare Songs III” by Matthew Harris. These include “It was a Lover and His Lass,” “You Spotted Snakes,” “Sigh No More, Ladies” and “O Mistress Mine.”
The finale will be “In Windsor Forest” by Ralph Vaughan Williams. These five pieces, though not all from Shakespeare’s works, combine nicely into a suite that features soprano soloist Kristen Eisenhammer. It begins with another version of “Sigh No More Ladies,” and includes a bawdy drinking song, “Back and Side go Bare, a marvelous fairy ring, a charming wedding chorus, and the devastatingly beautiful epilogue, “Whether Men Do Laugh or Weep.”
To purchase tickets or to assist in the long-term financial health of Chamber Singers, please visit www.icchambersingers. org.
James Petersen sings with the Chamber Singers of Iowa City.