June 9–16, 2019
Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre
219 Tremont Street
The Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) presents diverse programs and activities, including Award-winning opera recordings, an annual concert series in Boston and New York, and a biennial week-long Festival and Exhibition of early music. This year Boston Early Music Festival presents the North American premiere of Agostino Steffani's 1691 opera, Orlando. In this preview interview, Picture This Post (PTP) discusses the upcoming event with BEMF Executive Producer, Kathleen Fay (KF).
(PTP )Please tell Picture this Post readers about The Boston Early Music Festival.
(KF) The Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) promotes the continuing vitality of Early Music through unparalleled Baroque opera productions, a celebrated concert series, a biennial world-class and international Festival, GRAMMY-winning recordings, and acclaimed touring programs. As the world’s leading presenter and producer of the very highest quality performances of Early Music, including standard repertoire and newly revived masterpieces that will inspire and delight contemporary audiences, BEMF gives music lovers a better understanding of the great music of the past, while providing worldwide leadership services on behalf of artists, musicologists, instrument makers, and colleague institutions.
What is early music?
Early Music is vocal and instrumental repertoire spanning the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque eras – roughly 400-1750 – and performed in the style of, or approaching as best we can, what composers and artists of the time had in mind. “Historically-informed performance” is a phrase commonly used today to describe Early Music, which has to do with our approach to, or interpretation of, this music.
How do you select repertoire to perform?
At the helm of BEMF’s artistic output is a brilliant team of directors. This group of artistic leaders—presently comprised of BEMF’s two Artistic Directors, Opera Director, Orchestra Director, and Dance Director—is exceptional in their ability to provide comprehensive, world-class oversight of BEMF productions. Through a complex process of identification, restoration and reconstruction, and presentation, their leadership embodies the culture and language of Early Music, and shows an absolute commitment to authenticity and quality. In this capacity, BEMF’s approach is wholly unique in the world. Approximately two years in advance of each biennial Festival, the BEMF Program Committee – led by BEMF’s Executive Director, and including BEMF’s Artistic Directors, a selection of scholars, musicologists, and members of the general public – select the theme, centerpiece opera production, and official concerts for each Festival.
Why was Orlando chosen? Will it feature any baroque instruments not usually played?
Eight years ago, at our June 2011 Festival, we presented the North American premiere of another opera by Agostino Steffani – in my mind, one of the most important composers, if not THE most important composer, of the 17th century – Niobe, Regina di Tebe. Audience members, press, and all artists involved, were so captivated – not only by the exceptional quality of the music, but also by the sheer spectacle on display – we immediately determined that a full staging of Steffani’s 1691 opera, Orlando generoso, his most popular opera during his own lifetime, had to be in our future! Orlando has an incredibly rich score with breathtaking musical movements, and the story offers plenty of opportunity for dazzling special effects, breathtaking sets, and the gorgeous costumes BEMF has become known for.
So, this will be a fully staged production?
Absolutely. Our team of directors and designers – Musical Co-Directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs, Stage Director and Set Designer Gilbert Blin, Orchestra Director Robert Mealy, Dance Director Melinda Sullivan, and Costume Designer Anna Watkins – have spent years, meticulously researching the opera and its original 17th-century productions to create a lavish spectacle, inspired by historical performance practices and honoring the elaborate entertainment this opera offers. Rather than an historical recreation, our directors and designers strive to understand how opera was staged during the Baroque period and use that insight to help guide their own creations, from the set design, to the costumes, to the choreography, and more.
Is this original choreography?
Our choreographer, Marie-Nathalie Lacoursière, is a specialist in Baroque dance. In developing the choreography for our Orlando production, she has consulted what surviving materials exist from the original productions and supplemented that with her own knowledge and experience as a performer.
How will this performance differ from its first ones in the baroque period?
We’d like to think our production of Steffani’s Orlando generoso will feel quite familiar to the style and aesthetic of the original performances in the 17th-century, but this is by no means a stuffy recreation! Some concessions for modern production practices obviously need to be made—no lighting by candlelight! Some scenes will be cut or shortened—the original ran well over 4 hours. We do strive to honor the original performance practices as much as possible, though. Doing so can offer new insights, opportunities for humor, and intricately detailed musical moments that might get lost in a modernized staging. Our once-in-history production will feature a cast of 9 critically-acclaimed soloists, 33 members of our all-star BEMF Orchestra, 8 Baroque dancers, flying creatures, magnificent sets, and stunningly-beautiful costumes.
All Photos by Kathy Wittman and as meson above.