(Kathy Wittman photograph)
A magical production of Agostino Steffani’s Orlando generoso opened the 20th incarnation of the Boston Early Music Pageant’s biannual exhibition and live performance extravaganza on Sunday. Half barricaded by development fencing on Tremont Road, the superbly restored Cutler Emerson Majestic Theater provided an exquisite haven of disbelief for a tale of thwarted loves, mistaken identities, sudden transformations and, above all, human frailties.
Born in Castelfranco, close to Venice, in 1654, Steffani spent most of his life in Germany, and died in Frankfurt in 1728. As a boy soprano he sang at main churches in Padua, Ferrara, and Vicenza, as well as in operas in Venice. Discovered and taken to Munich in 1667 by the Elector Ferdinand Maria of Bavaria, he sang within the courtroom opera and was additionally provided with organ lessons. In 1672 he went to Rome to review composition, returning to Munich two years later and soon turning into recognized for his organ and harpsichord enjoying. Between 1678 and 1679 Steffani visited Paris, the place he played before Louis XIV and have become acquainted with the music of Lully. With the dying of the Elector and the accession of his son, Maximilian Emanuel, Steffani’s found his profession on the Munich courtroom creating rapidly. He was quickly appointed director of chamber music, and his first opera Marco Aurelio was staged. (The final of his Munich operas, Niobe, regina di Tebe, was performed and recorded on the Boston Early Musica Pageant in 2011.) Steffani additionally engaged in secret diplomacy when he was asked to discover the potential for a wedding between the elector and Princess Sophie Charlotte of Hanover.
In summer time 1688 he entered the service of Duke Ernst August of Hanover. The duke established the first permanent Italian opera firm in Hanover and constructed a powerful new theatre for it, importing main Italian singers and appointing Steffani as Kapellmeister. Opera was a way of enhancing the international popularity of the duke’s courtroom and attaining the elevation of his duchy to an citizens in the Holy Roman Empire. He already had an Italian courtroom poet, Ortensio Mauro, and his orchestra included players from France and the Low Nations. The Hanover opera lasted solely eight years, but was recognized throughout the Continent. Orlando generoso was first carried out in 1691 and revived in German translation for the Hamburg opera in 1696. Ortensio Mauro, its librettist, was secretary and councillor to the dukes of Hanover, a priest and abbate, and a central figure within the Catholic group in Protestant Hanover. The story is taken from Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso, written between 1502 and 1506 and extensively learn in Italy within the following century. It harks again to the story of the Frankish knight Roland depicted in the Chanson de Roland (ca. 1100). Ariosto’s Orlando is a fearless and invincible knight driven mad by his infatuation with the princess Angelica. By adding the pair of lovers, Ruggiero (Roger) and Bradamante, Ariosto paid homage to their supposed descendants, the d’Este family who have been his patrons. In the Baroque period, Among the many earliest operas based mostly on Ariosto’s poem was Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina (The Liberation of Ruggiero from Alcina’s Island. 1625), masterfully performed in a chamber version by the Boston Early Music Pageant ensemble last November.
At the Cutler Emerson Majestic, the BEMF orchestra, led by concertmaster Robert Mealy, sat in two rows, with first and second violins dealing with one another and the sizable continuo group, led by Paul O’Dette, theorbo, Stephen Stubbs, Baroque guitar, and Michael Sponseller, harpsichord, on the appropriate. Oboes, recorders, bassoons, viola da gamba, and percussion offered further instrumental colour in a variety of arias. The opera’s sometimes French Overture consisted of a sluggish motion in stately dotted rhythms followed by a sprightly triple-meter fugue. The curtain opened on a valley within the Pyrenees, topped by the enchanted fort of the sorcerer Atlante, a desolate cavern at its foot. The warrior maiden, Bradamante (soprano Emöke Baráth) has sure and tied the thief Brunello (baritone Zachary Wilder) to a tree after wresting from him the ring that serves as her allure towards magic. Atlante has imprisoned her lover Ruggiero and she or he is decided to free him. Baráth’s ringing tones and belligerent stance have been solely in character with the intrepid warrior maidens well known from crusader epics. Atlante (baritone Jesse Blumberg) descends from the sky mounted on a hippogriff, a incredible creature with the physique of a horse and the top of an eagle. He has imprisoned Ruggiero only to guard him from his fated marriage to Bradamante. In stentorian tones he brandishes his magic defend, however Bradamante only pretends to be blinded by it. Atlante concedes defeat briefly and breaks the spell, causing the fort and the stunning valley to disappear, giving place to a desert. Ruggiero (countertenor Christopher Lowrey) is liberated, and the reunited lovers sing a duet to a simple strophic bass, Lowrey’s restrained and mellifluous alto a foil to Baráth’s softened tones. However inexplicably, Ruggiero flies off on the hippogriff (because of the stage machinery offered by ZFX, Inc.) and Bradamante is left to muse that happiness is simply fleeting. As Atlante bemoans his loss of energy, Brunello, still tied up, reveals himself as a comic trickster who can reveal secrets and techniques if only he is untied and rewarded accordingly. In an affecting soliloquy alternating expressive recitative with virtuoso aria ornamentation, and accompanied — pastoral fashion — by two recorders, Bradamante falls asleep as she mourns the loss of Ruggiero. Her protector, the great sorceress Melissa, descends from a cloud and invokes aerial spirits to hold her away. Now we meet the opposite star-crossed pair of lovers, Angelica (soprano Amanda Forsythe) and Medoro (Kacper Szelążek), a peasant shepherd whom she has secretly married without the information of her father, Galafro, King of Cathay. After disguising Angelica as a shepherdess so she will strategy her father incognito, Szelążek, a nimble countertenor possessed of ringing high notes, sings of his luck. In the next scene, an unique show of imagined oriental splendor on the courtroom of Cathay, Galafro, resplendent in a yellow gown, suspects the timid Medoro as a foreigner and takes him prisoner. As Galafro, the Italian countertenor Flavio Ferri Benedetti railed towards the cruelty of suspicion in an excellent display of incisive high notes, shocking us with a momentary dip into an sudden baritone. When Orlando lastly made his first appearance, mad for love of Angelica, his soliloquy laid out the opera’s central dilemma as a conflict between love and obligation. Tenor Aaron Sheehan’s excellent musicianship guided him via a thicket of conflicting feelings in an expressive recitative, adopted by a bravura aria by which he displayed extraordinary power and breath control. Confusion reigned in the following scenes. Angelica believes Medoro has forsaken her; Bradamante has lost Ruggiero; Orlando believes he acknowledges Angelica, but she only repeats “I am not she,” adding to his confusion as he swears his constancy to her. Act I concluded with the descent of a fearful dragon containing the magician Atlante and various spirits. As the spirits execute a ballet in the French type, Brunello guarantees to recuperate the magic ring from Bradamante: in any case, women steal souls and hearts, so stealing from them is not any crime. Acts II and III mix the psychological confusion of Orlando with the 2 pairs of magically ensnared and jealous lovers, more and more confused by mistaken identities they can’t fathom and disembodied voices they can’t trace. In a dungeon soliloquy, Orlando involves his senses. Galafro acknowledges Angelica as his daughter.The grotto has grow to be the royal palace of Cathay and Atlante has disappeared, leaving the king, the hero, and the lovers to draw their very own moralistic conclusions.
The sorcerer Atlante and the spirits of his enchanted palace (Kathy Wittman photograph)
All through this enchanting spectacle, the tragedy of human frailty intersected with the comedy of the lovers’ hopeless situations, all directed with verve and assurance by Gilbert Blin. Adding to our sense of wonderment have been the ballets, directed by Melinda Sullivan and choreographed by Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière, and the beautiful costumes by Anna Watkins. The painted units by Gilbert Blin and Kate Noll transported us seamlessly from one incredible world to another. The extraordinary diploma of skillful collaboration demonstrated by the whole forged, orchestra, and manufacturing employees of this elaborate drama in all its refinement was proof that some issues are still going proper. Repeat performances are scheduled for June 12th and 14th at 7 pm and June 16th at 3:30 pm. Completely not be missed!
Virginia Newes, who lives in Cambridge, was Affiliate Professor of Music Historical past and Musicology at the Eastman Faculty of Music.
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