Thursday, July 7, 2011

Summer Festivals

The biennial Boston Early Music Festival is always a wonderful opportunity to hear some great music, browse through exhibits, and socialize with friends and colleagues from around the world. This year Ars Lyrica offered its first program on the festival fringe, for a very enthusiastic audience at Old South Church’s Gordon Chapel. (Watch for the review in the next issue of Early Music America.) Soprano Melissa Givens and countertenor Ryland Angel were the stars of our show, in music by Alessandro and Domenico Scarlatti. Bravo to our prima donna, primo uomo, and a terrific band that included violinists Adam LaMotte and Sean Wang, cellist Barry Sills, and guitarist/theorbo player Richard Savino!

Both of the BEMF operas were on my dance card, and they were something to behold. Steffani’s “Niobe, Queen of Thebes,” though not destined for standard-rep houses anytime soon, proved a marvelous vehicle for superstar countertenor Philippe Jarrousky and his hapless queen, soprano Amanda Forsythe. The score abounds in short virtuosic arias and ensembles, and contains some of the oddest music I’ve ever heard: King Anfione (Jarrousky’s role) sings an aria while dying that defies description – more chromatic weirdness that I’ve ever before heard in a Baroque opera. BEMF also revived its much-praised production of Handel’s “Acis and Galatea” to a very grateful audience. I can’t imagine a more thoughtful and right-on-target production for this delicious score. The singing was pretty incredible, too, with Aaron Sheehan, Teresa Wakim, and Douglas Williams giving outstanding performances in the leading roles. Gilbert Blin, who staged both productions, could IMHO stage the Boston phone book and we’d be enthralled.

San Francisco was next on my itinerary, where I spent a few delightful days in the cool breezy weather that this city is famous for in the summertime. (During my grad school days at Stanford I regularly took both a sweater and a jacket with me on warm days when headed to SF for the evening – things haven’t changed!) While there I saw “Siegfried” at SF Opera (thanks to Birgitt VanWijk and Rudy Avelar) in a marvelous production by Francesca Zambello, with gorgeous playing by the orchestra under Donald Runnicles, and a great cast, too.

Off to the Tetons Festival in a few weeks to play a program with Nic McGegan, then to Santa Fe to see “Griselda” and “Wozzeck.” Stay tuned for a post on the latter – can’t wait to get my Santa Fe fix with this summer’s oddest couple, Vivaldi and Berg!

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