A contemporary art dealer I know once exclaimed, as I was taking him around and old master drawings show I had organized, “this stuff has a lot of history. There’s a lot of history here…” as if history were a tangible quality that was somehow imparted to an object, whether by the artist, or by the physical touch of time, or by the many people who had successively owned it, or perhaps by something else…history! Every two years in June, history pours into the already deeply historical city of Boston in the form of historically-informed instrumentalists and singers, musicologists, historical instruments, historical instrument builders, historical editions, and manuscripts. Only a few of the historical folk—locals, most likely—knew that history was being made all around them, while some were immersed in the Roman de Fauvel and others were enraptured by Steffani’s Niobe, Regina di Tebe, as I was. As I sat down for the performance, I noticed a few more empty seat than I might have expected, and during the first intermission, I ventured out on Tremont Street for a few minutes.
Maybe the best thing about the early music movement is the way it has gotten main-stream artists, as they used to be called, to take music written before 1750 seriously. Handel’s operas are now staged across a range that extends from historical reconstruction to the most advanced stagings. Operas that used to be radically cut, rearranged, transposed, or just ignored, are now afforded textual validity and theatrical viability. On the performance side we now have the finest young singers and players involved.