August 6, 2010

New website coming next week!

It is only fitting for our 100th blog entry that we announce a new, redesigned website. Starting Monday, our homepage will look a bit more like this:

Loyal blog readers: Please be aware that our blog will also be shifting to this new site. Updates to this blog will cease at the end of August.

What I did on my summer vacation: Pt. 1

'What have your musicians and singers have been up to all summer?' you ask? Well, let's find out!

In June, Music Librarian and violist David Daniel Bowes (left) went on vacation with his partner Brian to the Pacific Northwest, where Brian was sick with flu the entire time! When David started to get sick too, “we paid the piper and came home early.” However, after all that, “bliss!” They planted heirloom tomatoes and the dahlias came up in full force and beauty. As he has for nearly 25 years, David played under George Cleve in the Midsummer Mozart Festvial. He is often working from home this summer since he is painting the walls of their Santa Rosa house, with Brian on “food and errand duty.” David says he is “looking very much forward to the start of the Philharmonia Baroque season!”

Angela Arnold, a soprano joining the Chorale this fall, made her first appearance with Open Opera in June, in a free, open-air concert of popular arias at Berkeley's Live Oak Park and has been preparing for a number of recitals in September. She has had a few brief getaways this summer: the Texas Panhandle, where she met some in-laws for the first time (!); her hometown Chicago, where she enjoyed “real summer weather,” including beautiful thunderstorms; and Washington, D.C., where she “baked for hours in the sun” for the chance to catch Gladys Knight and Reba McIntyre performing live on the Capitol's West Lawn for the 4th of July.

Violinist Carla Moore (left) performed with her chamber group, Music's Re-creation, and her new string band, Archetti Baroque Strings, at the Berkeley Festival. Soon after, she went camping in Canyonlands National Park, southeastern Utah with her family. “It was pure bliss-red rocks and hot sun!” After that she actually had to get back to work – performing J.S. Bach's Orchestral Suites at the Oregon Bach Festival with Monica Huggett and the Portland Baroque Orchestra and teaching at the Amherst Early Music Festival on the East Coast. She’s looking forward to her second camping trip to the Sierras in August, but first she is teaching the “wee ones” violin at the SFEMS Music Discovery Workshop in Berkeley.

Also new to the chorale, alto Jean-Paul Jones worked at a summer camp in the Mendocino Mountains for about three weeks with troubled youth from the Bay Area. “It was an interesting and rewarding experience, but also exhausting.” He is back in San Francisco playing viola with Bay Area Rainbow Symphony (and seeking employment as a bartender).

After what violinist Kati Kyme calls the “whirl-wind of Berkfest concerts,” she took a few days to unwind at Stinson Beach. Her family rented a house, where they were “spoiled to have only a few steps to the beautiful views of Stinson.” Since then, she’s been back working for upcoming performances of Don Giovanni with Open Opera and preparing two weeks of youth orchestra camps. “I am able to sneak in only a little pre-season practicing, but I'm almost ready, psychologically, for the new season to start.”

August 2, 2010

Meet Courtney

This past July, we were lucky to be joined by Courtney Stredder, who interned for us through Career Explorations. Soon to be a senior at Nampa High School in Idaho, Courtney helped us prepare for the upcoming 30th Anniversary Season. While with us, she wrote press releases, dove into the archives to research our history, helped with the season ticket mailing, and attended the Association of California Symphony Orchestra's Conference. Last year's #1 state finalist in the Keyboard Percussion category for marimba and also an alto saxophone player, Courtney is looking forward to her last year in high school and excited about pursuing music in college. Good luck Courtney and thank you for all of your hard work!

July 27, 2010

Many thanks!

We would like to thank all the volunteers who offered their time last week to help with the ticket mailings. Because of them, we were able to send out all the subscription orders by the end of the week! Many thanks to the following volunteers, we couldn't have done it without them:

Al and Natalie Davis
Luce Denney
Jubillee Gee
Ellen Thiel
Marcia Wire
Pat Wolf

July 21, 2010

A needed change of perspective

Most of our staff will be attending the Association of California Symphony Orchestras 42nd Annual Conference this Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Much like the League of American Orchestras earlier this summer, ACSO is sounding notes of a minor key: "Orchestras and choruses are struggling. Slashed funding, declining attendance, and increased costs are just a few of the problems we have to wrestle with as a community. Join your colleagues... to learn new techniques and acquire new tools that are necessary to remain competitive and viable in this ever-changing world."

We recently read two articles that suggest that we need to shift our perspective a bit to realize just how vital classical music is to our world today.

In 66 days...

... we'll get to see our Nic conduct Mozart here in the Bay Area. For now, we'll just have to read about him conducting Mozart elsewhere.

For you impatient fans out there, subscribers will begin to receive their tickets this week(!) and single tickets go on sale in 15 days on August 5.

July 20, 2010

Japanese Handel?

Is of course courtesy of our Music Director! Who else did you expect!

Read more.

July 15, 2010

FREE-harmonia Baroque Orchestra...

Don't miss a FREE performance by a small ensemble of musicians from the orchestra. On Sunday, September 26,  at 5 p.m. the Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra Ensemble performs at Hertz Hall on the UC Berkeley Campus. Part of the Cal Performances Open House "Free For All," the ensemble performs Haydn's Quartet for Oboe and Strings in C major and String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 64, No. 6, as well as Mozart's Quintet for Oboe and Strings in C minor. The event is free and open to the public. This will be the perfect way to warm up for our all-Mozart concert with fortepianist Robert Levin later that evening.

TRIVIA: Austrian composers Haydn and Mozart were contemporaries – though there was a substantial age difference (Haydn being 24 years older than Mozart). Were the two friends? Find out here.

Hint: The above engraving is supposed to be a portrait of Mozart & Hadyn in Mozarteum, Salzburg.

Gonzalo in the Wall Street Journal

One of the volunteers who is helping us with our season ticket mailing mentioned this morning that Gonzalo Ruiz is featured in today's Wall Street Journal. He talks about transcribing Bach's "Orchestral Suite No. 2," with it's famous flute solos, for oboe. We played this back in October 2008 to rave reviews.

Hear for yourself: 

July 12, 2010

Speaking of jokes...

Alex Ross posted (and Scott thankfully forwarded) this hilarious spoof radio commercial from 1977 that ever so gently jibes the more contemporary compositions that you will probably never hear our orchestra perform, not even on period instruments.

Fun — and fart jokes — in classical music

That was the sub-headline of the great feature in The Aspen Times this weekend on our Music Director.

That's right, so soon back from Oregon and Nic's off in Aspen (and we wish we could go see him conduct, but we'll have to wait until September when our 30th Season kicks off).

Here's a bit of our favorite part from the article:

"McGegan believes that injecting that sort of jollity into classical music is hardly a radical notion, or even a departure from early concert-going.

"'Mozart loved it when people clapped in the middle of a movement,' he said. 'I have no problem with people clapping between movements. If you're playing Mahler Nine, it's a different atmosphere than [Mozart's] 'Jupiter' Symphony, or Haydn, which had genuine jokes in it.' McGegan mentions a Haydn passage in which two bassoons play some loud, rude notes: 'It could only be associated with the back end of a cow. You can be sure the original audience laughed their asses off.'

"The notion that classical music is strictly serious business wasn't around at the birth of concert music. McGegan imagines a dinner party where the guests are all noted composers, and he believes there would be plenty of drinking, laughter and off-color behavior.

"'Haydn would be delightful, charming. Mendelssohn — wonderful,' he said. 'Mozart would probably tell naughty jokes and fart and throw bread rolls at the women. He wasn't well-trained for the house. Poor Beethoven — he'd probably be tortured, because he couldn't hear the conversation. Wagner would just talk about himself.'

"A review of a recent concert McGegan did with the Philadelphia Orchestra referred to McGegan and Robert Levin as 'the two naughty boys of early music.' But McGegan finds nothing inappropriate about his approach to music. When the music calls for an austere respect, he has no trouble moving into a more solemn mode. In any event, his credentials as a proper gentleman were solidified last month, when he was named an Officer of the Order of the British Empire.

"But McGegan sees his role not so much as standing erect next to the queen, but in getting the classical music world off its high and mighty throne."

July 7, 2010

You Like Us, You Really, Really Like Us!

Become of fan of Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra on Facebook!

Thank you for your support!

Kick off the year with Intrada

We are pleased to announce “Intrada,” the our 30th Anniversary Opening Night Celebration, which takes place on Friday, September 24, 2010, in the Green Room at the War Memorial Veterans Building (401 Van Ness Avenue), across from City Hall. The Opening Night Celebration begins at 6:00 p.m. with a delicious strolling supper and concludes with the first concert of our 2010/11 Season, an evening of music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart featuring fortepianist and Mozart scholar Robert Levin.

Wines are provided by board member Randall Grahm, founder and owner of Bonny Doon Vineyard.

Tickets are $85 per person (event only) or $110 per person (includes balcony seating for the concert performance in Herbst Hall). Purchase tickets now using PalPal:


Or contact Jeff Thomas, Associate Director of Development, (415) 252-1288 x312.

If you're wondering what an "intrada" is, we'll quote our Grove for you: "an instrumental piece used to accompany an entrance, to inaugurate some festive event or to begin a suite [of dance music]" that was very popular in the Baroque era. What a great name for our 30th Season kick off party!

July 2, 2010

Nic in Oregon this weekend!

Nic flew up to Eugene, Oregon, this morning just in time for rehearsal for tomorrows’s 40th Anniversary Gala Concert at the Oregon Bach Festival. He probably thought he'd be having a nice, quiet long weekend in Berkeley, however pianist and conductor Jeffrey Kahane just had to cancel his appearances at the festival because of illness.

June 28, 2010

John Prescott leads SFEMS summer adult course

On August 2-6, our pre-concert lecturer John Prescott (right) will once again lead a series of morning classes for adults in Berkeley at the Crowden Center for Music in the Community. The theme this year will be the music of one of the most prolific and influential of Baroque composers (he's also one of our favorites): G. F. Handel. Presented by the San Francisco Early Music Society, this interactive course entitled "Handel and his World" is intended for curious adults who want to broaden their musical horizons and deepen their listening pleasure. Learn more.

Historically-informed summer camp!

Our friends at the
San Francisco Early Music Society just let us know that there is still space in their summer youth day camp program. At this year's "Music Discovery Workshop," youths ages 7-15 can "swashbuckle their way through life and music in 17th century France and England," learning recorder, harpsichord, strings, chamber music and musicianship, while also participating in other activities like crafts, costume making, and outdoor games. The camp takes place in Berkeley at the Crowden Center for Music in the Community from August 1-6, 2010. Download a brochure.

June 25, 2010

Soccer: Baroque? Classical? Romantic?

Do you have soccer (ahem... football) fever like many of us in the office? Maybe you can answer this bit of trivia:

Which piece of orchestral or operatic music was published the year that the first official rules of soccer were agreed upon and first "Football Association" was founded in a tavern in London?

A: John Blow's Venus and Adonis (1683)

B: Joseph Haydn's Symphonies No. 12 and 13 (1763)

C: Hector Berlioz's Les Troyens (1863)

And now, in anticipation of tomorrow's elimination round game:

UPDATED 6/28: We guess we'll have to hang onto that memory. Good effort, USA!

June 22, 2010

Meet Scott!

Scott broke the news last week and now it's our turn: We have engaged Scott Foglesong to write all of our program notes for our 30th Anniversary Season, as well as give three of the eight sets of pre-concert lectures. Chair of the Department of Musicianship and Music Theory at the San Francisco Conservatory and one of the San Francisco Symphony's program annotators and pre-concert lecturers, Scott will also serve as our Scholar in Residence, assisting in our artistic planning.

Why is this so exciting for us? Well, not only is Scott a respected musicologist and a great writer whose name many of our staff members look for in the concert hall and on the web, but his roots are entangled deeply with the orchestra's – Scott was a student of Laurette Goldberg, the founder of our orchestra!

More Nic News

Last week, Juilliard's Historical Performance program announced that Nic will conduct Juilliard415 on Saturday, November 20 at 8 PM in Alice Tully Hall. The program includes a rare Handel cantata, Clori, Tirsi, e Fileno, and Vivaldi's Concerto for Two Flutes in C Major. Having only just debuted in December of last year, Juilliard415, the music school's new period-instrument group, will perform a series of seven concerts next season that features not only Nic, but also Jordi Savall and William Christie. Watch them perform with Artistic Director Monica Huggett below.

McGegan has long relationship with Juilliard, including a teaching residency and has regular appearances conducting the Juilliard Orchestra. He returns to conduct the Juilliard Orchestra that same week on Monday, November 22 at 8 PM in Alice Tully Hall.

June 15, 2010

Congratulations Nic!

What does Graham William Nash, co-founder of Crosby, Stills and Nash, and our Music Director Nicholas McGegan have in common? Both were named Officers of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list published this weekend. Congratulations Nic!

Thank you to our BFX volunteers!

Thank you to our board members Kit Leland, Adam Arthur Bier, and Marie Bertillion Collins, who helped out this weekend at our table at the Berkeley Early Music Festival and Exhibition. Our Marketing Director was particularly thankful he could escape for two hours on Saturday to watch the USA/England game. We enjoyed meeting our neighbor baroque string instrument maker Gabriela Guadalajara and, of course, seeing scenes like this:

June 9, 2010

Congratulations Hanneke!

We are pleased to announce a recent appointment to the membership of Philharmonia Baroque. Effective next season, Hanneke van Proosdij has been named First-Call Member of the Laurette Goldberg Keyboard Chair, endowed by Anne and David Oliver. Our long time fans will surely recognize Hanneke, who has often played harpsichord, organ, and recorder in the orchestra for the last 13 years.

Hanneke performs regularly as soloist and continuo specialist with
Philharmonia Baroque, FestspielOrchester Göttingen, Voices of Music, Concerto Palatino, Magnificat and American Bach Soloists. She has appeared as a guest artist with Hesperion XX, Concerto Köln, Chanticleer, Orchestre dAmbronnay, Gewandhaus Orchester and the Arcadian Academy. She received her solo and teaching diplomas from the Royal Conservatory of The Hague, where she studied recorder, harpsichord and composition.

Together with her husband David Tayler, Hanneke cofounded and codirects Voices of Music. Hanneke is a cofounder of the Junior Recorder Society in the East Bay and was the director of the SFEMS Medieval Renaissance Workshop for seven years and now directs, together with Rotem Gilbert, the SFEMS Recorder Workshop. She has recorded over forty discs for Magnatune, BIS, Koch, Musica Omnia, Carus, AVIE and Delos.

Please join us in congratulating Hanneke on her appointment!

June 8, 2010

Our new favorite blogger...

Judge Marie!

Our board member The Hon. Marie Bertillion Collins has your "Survival Guide" for all you BFX10 bound Early Music lovers. Read Tip 1 and Tip 7... We hope the BFX blog fills us in as to what 2 through 6 are (how else will we survive)!

Our Marketing Director, who lived in Berkeley until just two months ago, can tell you how he'll survive the long days at the Philharmonia Baroque exhibition table – besides visits from you! – in just two words: Triple Rock.

Hey, Marie, when this is all over. Want to be our guest blogger?

June 7, 2010

An inspiring model?

Annalisa Pappano, a viol player in town for BFX10 from Cincinnati, wrote on her group's blog today:

What I find especially intriguing [in San Francisco] is the culture for early music here. This city boasts the [San Francisco Early Music Society] series, the Berkeley Early Music Festival, an astonishing number of professional viol players (last count was 16!), a full-time professional baroque orchestra (Philharmonia Baroque) with the superstar conductor Nicolas [sic] McGegan, and a whopping 43 early music organizations. This city is an inspiring model... What does it take for a city to become such an exciting center for early music?

So, we ask you the same question Annalisa asked: "What do you think?" Why and how did the Bay Area become a hub for early music? We'll be answering that all summer ourselves as we explore our own history as we approach our 30th Anniversary Season concerts.

June 4, 2010

Frederica von Stade interview from Houston PBS

Tired of reading some pretty gloomy posts on "Orchestra R/Evolution," we decided to cheer ourselves up. And Flicka can certainly do that! Here's a clip from Ernie Manouse's interview with her for Houston PBS's InnerVIEWS from this past December:

May 25, 2010

Closing out 20 years: Nic and the Göttingen International Handel Festival

Today, our Music Director Nic (left) conducted the final performance of the Göttingen International Handel Festival – the dark opera Tamerlano (HWV 18). Nic has led the Festival as its Music Director for the last 20 years. In 1991, he was passed the baton (figuratively of course, Nic doesn't use a baton as you may remember) by Sir John Eliot Gardiner. Next year, Nic will pass the honors of leading the Festival to (fittingly) yet another British conductor – Laurence Cummings. This year was the Festival's 90th year – to learn more about the festival, watch this video.

In related news, SFCV gave the Festival's new recording of Mendelssohn's arrangement of Handel's Dettinger Te Deum (left) a rave review today! This disc features Nic conducting many of Philharmonia Baroque's musicians in the FestspielOrchester Göttingen, as well as frequent collaborators Dominique Labelle and William Berger and recent guests Thomas Cooley (.pdf) and Colin Ainsworth (.pdf).

May 19, 2010

Dudamel on education

It's been a week since he swept through town, but we have Dudamel fever too! We were truly inspired when we watched him talk about helping to bring Venezuela's El Sistema music education program to the United States in this 60 Minutes segment. Thank you Janos Gereben at SFCV for keeping us in the know.

Musicianship, sensitivity, dramatic flair... grace, elegance, personal warmth

Joining us in March of 2011, Flicka has begun touring the country to say farewell to her adoring audiences before retirement. In case you missed it, here is the article about her Carnegie Hall farewell.

Congratulations SFRV!

Have you picked up your issue SF Weekly's "Your San Francisco?" We just wanted to take a minute to congratulate our early music colleagues San Francisco Renaissance Voices for winning "Best Classical Music – 2010." A few of our Chorale singers sing with SFRV, including Jeff Fields, Raymond Martinez, Kathy McKee (who is also the Assistant Music Director of SFRV - pictured) and Helene Zindarsian.

Glorious sounds of centuries past

On June 10-12, come say hello to us at our table at "BFX TEN" – the 10th bi-annual early music festival, conference and exhibition in Berkeley.

Presented by San Francisco Early Music Society and Early Music America, there will be beautiful performances both as a part of the festival and on "The Fringe" in conjunction with the main stage events. Don't miss members of the orchestra perform in their smaller chamber groups –
Magnificat, Music’s Re-creation, Voices of Music, New Esterhazy Quartet, Harmonia Felice, Ensemble Vermillian, Les Violettes, Galax Quartet, Barefoot Chamber Concerts and many more. Click here for the full schedule of events.

April 28, 2010

Great photos from our March Concert with Jordi Savall!

Until last week, we didn't know that our friend Frank Wing stopped by in March to snap photos of Jordi working with the orchestra during rehearsal. Check them out.

An influential afterlife: Exploring Orlando Furioso Part 3

Michael Wyatt joins us for the final post on Orlando furioso (read Parts 1 & 2):

A mere summary does little justice to the dazzling linguistic and conceptual texture of Ariosto’s great poem, elaborated in almost 40,000 lines through a complex network of narrative threads and a cast of thousands.

"The Sorcerer Altante Abducting Pinabello's Lady" by Nicolas Poussin (French, 1594–1665)

Orlando furioso was one of the run-away publishing successes of the early modern period. The poem appeared in almost fifty separate editions in Italian in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries (many of them reprinted many times over), but the Furioso has exercised an equally strong attraction translated into foreign languages. By the early twentieth century, there had been almost ninety versions – partial and complete – in French, twenty-nine in Spanish (it is one of the few books Don Quixote saves from his bonfire of the vanities), some twenty in Russian, thirty in German and eighteen in English. There have been translations of Orlando furioso into Czech, Latin, Hungarian, Portuguese, Dutch, Polish and Hebrew; the first Asian translation seems to be the one published in Japanese in 2002.

En Espanol!

Ariosto’s poem has had an equally rich history of re-elaboration in other forms, giving rise to a veritable industry of literary imitations and responses, visual representations and adaptations for the theater, film, television and radio. Handel wrote three operas to libretti based on the FuriosoAlcina, Ariodante, and Orlando – and composers as varied as Francesca Caccini, Lully, Porpora, Vivaldi, Rameau, and Haydn have found in Ariosto a deep vein of inspiration. Ariosto’s enduring fascination is evident today in the chivalric repertory of the Sicilian puppet theater, the opera dei pupi, a tradition that emerged on the island in the early nineteenth century and continues to be practiced today by several companies in Catania and Palermo.

April 19, 2010

Seven Centuries of Tradition: Exploring Orlando Furioso Part 2

While our April concerts are over (read the reviews), we are not done with Orlando just yet. Michael Wyatt joins us again:

Orlando furioso is the continuation of an earlier, unfinished, epic poem, Orlando innamorato (Orlando in Love), written in the late fifteenth century by another Ferrarese courtier, Matteo Maria Boiardo, both texts drawn from a wild mix of popular tales and cultivated literature that had developed over almost seven centuries in several linguistic and cultural traditions, encompassing both the Arthurian legends of Britain and the stories which had grown up around the figure of Hrolandus (Roland in French, Orlando in Italian), an obscure eighth-century French warrior.

The principal narrative axes of Ariosto’s poem are two. In the first, Orlando – chief among the Emperor Charlemagne’s Christian knights in the fight against the Saracen Agramante, King of Africa – is rejected by Angelica, daughter of the King of Cathay (China), goes mad, and in the process all but loses France to invading Islamic forces. Orlando’s tortuous return to sanity is only achieved late in the poem, after his English cousin and comrade-in-arms, Astolfo, travels to the moon where the wits of the insane are preserved in jars, watched over there by St. John the Evangelist. The second narrative crux concerns the ever-frustrated love of Ruggiero – Saracen champion and Orlando’s nemesis – for the Christian lady-warrior Bradamante, and the apparently countless impediments blocking their destiny – foretold early in the poem by the magician Merlin – to establish the Este dynasty.

The poem thus links the medieval struggle of Christians and Muslims, refracted through a complex web of history and mythology, with the contemporary reality of early sixteenth-century Italy, itself suffering at the time from a devastating succession of foreign incursions.

Prints by Gustave Dore.

April 8, 2010

Meet Goldilocks

Today, in the San Francisco Chronicle's "Props" column, Joshua Kosman profiled the harpsichord with a stage presence that can only rival its owner – our Music Director Nic! Here "Goldilocks" is in a photo taken shortly after she was built in 1996:

Written in his spare time: Exploring Orlando Furioso Part 1

In our last blog post, we mentioned Stanford University's symposium "Mad Orlando's Legacy," which will explore the immense impact of the epic poem Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto, which also happens to be the source material for our April concerts featuring Handel's Orlando. To help us explore the connection between the Renaissance poem and the baroque opera, Michael Wyatt (Associate Director of the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at Stanford University) joins us for a three part blog post. His first is about the author of this epic poem with it's own epic story:

Though now recognized as one of the towering figures of Italian Renaissance culture, Ludovico Ariosto (1474-1533) spent his working life in the service of the Este lords of Ferrara. This city, north of Bologna, is now a sleepy university town but in the early modern period was at the cross-roads of a vast European struggle to gain control of the Italian peninsula, and Ariosto’s great epic poem, Orlando furioso (Mad Orlando), registers these conflicts in multiple ways.

Ariosto was born into a minor aristocratic family and studied both law and classical literature, but the premature death of his father exposed the precariousness of the family’s financial situation and compelled Ludovico into the role of bread-winner for a large clan, first as a diplomat, then as the governor of Este-controlled territories in the isolated mountainous region of the Garfagnana (to the north and east of Lucca), and finally back in Ferrara as master of ceremonies and entertainments for the Este court.

As with so many other major Renaissance writers, Ariosto’s extraordinary literary work was accomplished amidst other – frequently onerous – responsibilities, and Orlando furioso slowly took shape over the course of three decades. First published in 1516, Ariosto continued tinkering with his poem and brought out expanded versions of it in 1521 and 1532. In addition to the Furioso, Ariosto wrote other poetry – in both Italian and Latin – and he was among the first to write stage comedies in a European vernacular language. A series of Satires provide biting send-ups of some of the most prominent figures in Ariosto’s world (including the reigning pope, Leo X, or Giovanni de’ Medici).

March 30, 2010

Forever mad: The Legacy of Orlando Furioso

38,736 lines of poetry collected into 46 cantos make up one of Western culture's most influential works of literature – Ludovico Ariosto's epic poem Orlando Furioso. Written and rewritten over the course of 26 years, this masterpiece once inspired operas, plays, poems, novels, art work and, of course, plenty of copy cats. Ariosta's work "of loves and ladies, knights and arms... of courtesies, and many a daring feat" was actually a sequel of Matteo Maria Boiardo's unfinished romance Orlando Innamorato, which fused the French legends Charlemagne with the English legends of King Arthur.

Until recently though, many in our office hadn't even heard of the poem, the source material, for Handel's opera Orlando (and a couple others too). Well, thank goodness for us (and you), Stanford University's Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies is hosting a symposium this spring about this poem and its legacy, which includes a conversation with Nic about Handel's Orlando and a performance by the Sicilian puppet company Figli d'Arte Cuticchio. Learn more.

March 19, 2010

Into the crazy world of Orlando: From our Handel expert (and Music Director) Nic McGegan

Nicholas McGegan joins us again to let us know what's so special about George Frideric Handel's opera Orlando, which the orchestra and chorale will perform in April:

Pictured above is the autographed score of Orlando, one of a series of so-called magic operas by Handel. While the sources of many of his plots are derived from classical history or mythology, the 1733 opera Orlando (as well as Ariodante and Alcina, both of 1735) is based on an Italian epic poem from the Renaissance – Orlando furioso by Ludovico Ariosto. Its story is one of extravagant valour and passion taken to the point of madness. Indeed, one could say that works in this genre were parodied by Cervantes in Don Quixote.

Extravagance, passion and madness are, of course, the life blood of opera and it is clear that Handel was inspired by the subject to produce one of his finest works. This is the last opera he wrote for the great alto castrato Senesino (left) for whom he had composed operas for a dozen years. Senesino was a difficult character but a superb singer and, unlike Farinelli, a splendid actor. This must have been a perfect role for him. The Mad Scene that forms the climax to the Second Act is one of the moments of Baroque Opera. Gone are all the normal conventions of the genre, even normal rhythms go awry as Orlando descends (in his own deluded mind) into Hell in five/eight time.

Into this crazy world, Handel, or rather his librettist, introduces two characters who are not found in Ariosto’s original. One is the magus Zoroastro who watches over the mad Orlando and eventually cures him of his insane love for Angelica. He is a wise father figure who will reappear in the Magic Flute as Sarastro. The other is the shepherdess Dorinda who represents an ordinary ‘down to earth girl’ mixed up in the rarified world of chivalrous romance. Her reactions are sometimes comic but she is also emotionally hurt by the crazy grandees about her, who use her and occasionally abuse her. However, she is the contact between us, the audience, and the other characters. This role was created for Celeste Gismondi, a Neapolitan comedienne, newly arrived in London. Obviously, she was an excellent singer and pert actress. It is with her character that we most often sympathise.

Handel’s music is of the highest level throughout and, because of the story, he was inspired to experiment with glorious results. Apart from the famous Mad Scene, the Trio at the end of the First Act is one of the finest ensembles he ever wrote and the aria during which Orlando finally collapses would not be out of place in a Bach Passion.

All this emotional extravagance was matched on stage by new scenery and costumes (like pictured left) specially made for the production. This was unusual at the time and was even noted in the newspapers. In addition, there were flying machines, including a chariot drawn by dragons to take Orlando out of Hell. We are, of course, giving the work in concert, so the audience will have to imagine the magic world on stage that went hand in hand with Handel’s glorious music.