Nevertheless, they persisted.
This fusion of Baroque opera heroines showcases our Resident Artists in selections from operas by Purcell, Handel, Monteverdi, and Gluck. Presented in concert with semi-staging and small orchestra. Consider this original production, created by Artistic Director Louis Burkot, a highlight reel of great performances by strong, resilient, unforgettable women who persisted.
Conductor: Louis Burkot
Director: Nora Winsler
Saturday, July 24 – 7pm
$25 (all seats)
All patrons will have assigned seats, but those assignments will be made and communicated to patrons closer to the performance date.
Talking About ‘Extraordinary Women’ with ON Artistic Director Louis Burkot
The Baroque period, which runs roughly from 1600 – 1750, is one of the richest and most diverse periods in music. The earliest Baroque operas drew on classical myths for their subject matter, and the first operatic heroine, by most accounts, was Monteverdi’s Eurydice, the beloved bride whose fatal curiosity led to tragedy.
Opera North’s production of Extraordinary Women, created by ON Artistic Director Louis Burkot, showcases Baroque opera’s bold women: the warrior queen, the wronged wife, the harlot as empress. Opera North Resident Artists take center stage in selections from operas by Purcell, Monteverdi, Handel and Gluck, presented in concert on Saturday, July 24, with semi-staging and a small orchestra.
“Extraordinary Women came about because I wanted to explore Baroque opera through the lens of its most important feature: women who are larger than life and who are central to determining the fates of their male counterparts,” said Burkot. “Extraordinary Women is more than just the women depicted in the scenes; it also highlights the extraordinary women in the cast who play all the roles – female and male. Although there will be the expected (!) dose of great tragedy, there will also be moments of humor and broad comedy as well.”
Extraordinary Woman begins with music from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas, written in English in 1607. Purcell’s only opera was highly influenced by the English masque, a form of festive courtly entertainment that flourished in 16th and early 17th century Europe, many written by Purcell himself.
As Louis explains, “These productions eventually became operas, but they are really more entertainment than drama, with dance, spoken dialogue, instrumental music, and singing.” Appropriately enough, the masque was also a favorite diversion for friends of Augustus Saint-Gaudens. The most famous was “Masque of the Hours” presented by those members of the Cornish Colony on the lawn just up the hill from Blow-Me-Down Farm. “By removing most of the ‘masque-like’ choruses in Dido and Aeneas and focusing on the three main characters of Aeneas, Dido, and Belinda, you have a more uninterrupted flow of character development.”
Emphasizing the idea that the “extraordinary women” in this production are both opera characters and those who sing the parts, Louis is casting a woman in the tenor role of Aeneas – a mezzo-soprano who is experienced in pants roles. “She’s delighted,” said Louis. “When I asked her, at first she said, ‘You mean, Dido?’ and I said, ‘No, Aeneas;’ and she said ‘Oh, yes! That will fit my voice so well!’”
Extraordinary Women gives the audience an introduction to the way opera developed in its earliest years. From Purcell in England, the production moves to Italy and The Coronation of Poppea (1643), the final composition by the ‘father of Baroque opera,’ Monteverdi. “The compositional techniques Monteverdi developed are still adhered to today,” said Louis. “His melodic line follows so closely the strength and lyricism of the Italian language and his compositions provide a roadmap for all Italian composers who followed – Mozart, Donizetti, Verdi, Puccini, and others.” “Our scenes focus on Poppea, mistress of the Roman emperor Nero, as she pursues her ambition to be crowned empress.”
The excerpts from Handel’s Semele and Giulio Cesare will highlight the virtuosity of the individual performers in Baroque arias. Both operas were written at the height of Handel’s great compositional powers in the mid-1700s. Closing the program of Extraordinary Women is the final scene from Gluck’s Orfeo and Eurydice. “This is what’s called ‘reform opera,’” said Louis. “Gluck is stripping the grandiose Handel into a more linear, sleeker model.”
Orfeo can save Eurydice from hell only if he does not look at her, which causes her to think he does not love her, after all. It is the perfect ending for the evening, and the point of Extraordinary Women: if there were no Eurydice, there would be no point to the story of Orfeo.
The evening, under the tent at Blow-Me-Down Farm with the audience in the round, will be staged by Nora Winsler, director of Opera North’s 2019 production of All is Calm (this offers a nice balance to that all-male production). Although Monteverdi, Purcell, Handel, and Gluck do define the historic arc of their era, Extraordinary Women is not necessarily intended as a thorough history of Baroque opera. “This is about extraordinary women characters and the women who play them,” said Louis.