Boston Early Music Festival: Fringe Concert Schedule

Sunday, June 12

12 noon Music’s Quill (Timothy Neill Johnson, tenor; Erin Chenard, soprano; Timothy Burris, lute & theorbo; Elliott Cherry, violoncello). Due Voci: Italian and French duets for soprano and tenor. Program features two of George Frideric Handel’s more delightful arrangements, duets for soprano and tenor based on madrigals by Giovanni Carlo Maria Clari. Also included are dialogues by François Richard and Antoine Boësset, and solos by Robert Ballard and Pietro Paolo Melli. The College Club of Boston. $15/10 st, sr, EMA. 617-536-9510 or

The Boston Early Music Festival 2011: a Preview with Concert Schedules, and about Steffani’s Opera, Niobe, Regina di Tebe

There are only a handful of festivals that have a real focus—one powerful enough to generate excitement among the musicians and the audience alike. The Boston Early Music Festival, now in tis 16th year is one of the supreme examples. Early music, which can extend from Ars Antiqua through Beethoven, is notorious among people who haven’t taken the plunge as a dry, scholarly variety of music-making, in which the thin, scrapy sounds of out-of-tune, obsolete instruments appeal mightily to a narrow clique of elderly males with unkempt long hair and beards, and perhaps beads and Birkenstocks, and their unprepossessing consorts. I find it amazing that some people can cling to this notion so far into the maturity of the movement. On the contrary, at the Boston Early Music Festival, you will find enthusiastic musicians and listeners of all ages, some of whom migrated from rock and folk backgrounds, who flock to Boston to learn the latest discovery about a score or an instrument, and to enjoy the sensual pleasure and intellectual stimulation of hearing great music played by the most accomplished players in the field. What festival could justify itself more compellingly that that? All you have to do is go to a concert or two, listen, and observe.

Best of 2010: Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, the Boston Early Music Festival Chamber Opera Production

This is the third year of BEMF’s wonderful new institution of annual chamber opera performances. These not only help us get through the alternate years, when there is no main festival in June, nor any full opera production, they set a standard for authenticity and for the imaginative recreation of centuries-old practices and aesthetics in such a way that an audience of cultivated non-experts can enjoy the performance and walk away exhilarated. This was certainly the mood in late November last year, when BEMF turned to Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. None of the other chamber operas produced so far is particularly obscure — not John Blow’s Venus and Adonis, nor Charpentier’s Actéon, nor Handel’s Acis and Galatea. On the contrary, they are central to the history of the genre, and they are performed, although not very often. This year’s offering, Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, is the most popular pre-Mozart opera of all. It fills the needs of conservatories, young sopranos or mezzos, as well as ageing divas, who wish to apply their wisdom to the tragic Queen of Carthage. We have reviewed a number of modest, but very successful productions in the Review over the past year or so.

Handel’s Acis and Galatea in its 1718 Chamber Version, presented by The 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.

Claudio Monteverdi, L’Incoronazione di Poppea at the Boston Early Music Festival, 2009

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.

The Royals We Love to Hate

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.

Lully’s Psyché by the Boston Early Music Festival, 2007, now on CD

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.

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