Tag Archive for ‘Boston Early Music Festival’
The Boston Early Music Festival’s chamber opera series got off to a brilliant start last year with a double bill of John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Actéon, and there was much anticipation for this year’s production of Handel’s Acis and Galatea in the version performed at Cannons, the estate of James Brydges, soon to be awarded the title, Duke of Chandos, by which he is best known both to historians and to Handel enthusiasts. Some 45 years had passed since the first performances of Blow’s and Charpentier’s works, but this kind of entertainment, a partially-staged masque, or pastorale, was not yet outmoded in London, where its supporters defended the English tradition of Blow and Purcell against its critics, who favored Italian opera. For his then extremely wealthy patron, Handel was able to produce a simple, straightforward work of great beauty, which, although originally designed for private performance at Cannons, with its literary coterie, art collection, gardens, and waterworks, enjoyed a future as a more elaborately staged operatic performance.
One of the happy results of the economic crisis—and there have been some—was this important and delightful production of one of the greatest of operas, Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea. BEMF’s original plan, in keeping with their policy of devoting their operatic performances to spectacular stagings of rarely performed, ambitious works, was to present Antiochus und Stratonica (1708) by Christoph Graupner (1683-1760). At the very least Poppea would need only some forty odd people on stage, as opposed to over a hundred in the Graupner, and no machinery, large choruses, or dancers. Poppea was also BEMF’s first repetition of an opera: They staged it at the very first festival in 1981. BEMF has performed numerous important operas, but, if any opera deserves revisitation, it is Poppea. In fact, as brilliant and as successful as this production was, Poppea presents so many problems to specialists, as well as to audiences, that no single production can solve them all, and I can only hope that the people behind this production, above all Gilbert Blin and Ellen Hargis, as well as the musical principles, Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, will have an opportunity to return to it at least once again in their careers, to develop and refine their insights, which were both intellectually trenchant as well as blessed with common sense of the best kind. The Seattle Ring, Caramoor’s Semiramide, and this Poppea show how much there is a lot to be gained by respecting the composer’s intentions and the conventions of his time. In my enthusiasm I saw the production twice. I’d venture to say that they got it right.
One easily understands the international acclaim BEMF has garnered. After four years of following these performers as they eagerly mount these ancient dramas, I am always astonished at their musical excellence and enterprise—something unprecedented in the world of early music.
Below you will find my review of the Boston Early Music Festival’s magnificent performance of Lully’s Psyché on June 24, 2007 at the Mahaiwe Arts Center in Great Barrington. As the 2009 festival approaches, it seems appropriate to transfer it to our new site with a few remarks about the recording of the performance which was nominated for a Grammy award for best opera. This vivid and colorful recording, made in Jordan Hall, Boston, provides an accurate, clear, and beautifully balanced record of the performance reviewed below. You will hear the splendid singing and original instruments in sparkling presence and full resonance, not to mention the liveliness of the singers interchanges. Bravi tutti!
Boston Early Music Festival Presents Two One-Act Chamber Operas: John Blow’s Venus and Adonis and Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s, Actéon
This past Friday and Saturday I attended two operatic performances, one at the Metropolitan Opera in New York, the other at Boston’s New England Conservatory, which began decorously enough, but both ended in an uproar one might have expected to find at a major prize fight. Both audiences were absolutely thrilled by what they saw and heard. I didn’t count the curtain calls, but the audience’s response to Tristan und Isolde under Daniel Barenboim conjured up legendary evenings of many years past, and the baroque and early music enthusiasts who packed Jordan Hall to attend the Boston Early Music Festival’s first annual production of baroque chamber operas was no less uninhibited in their cheers, whoops, and clapping, expressing their well-deserved appreciation of a brilliant start to an important new series. Although my account of Tristan will appear separately below, I wish to present them together, because of what they tell us about opera and its current state.