Sunday October 29, 2017 | 3:00PM (Pre-concert talk at 2:15)
Chan Shun Concert Hall at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts | Map
Monteverdi’s Orfeo is the first unqualified masterpiece of operatic history. Full of dramatic word painting, narrative urgency, rich orchestration of exotic instruments as well as exquisite writing for vocal ensemble, it feels as fresh and full of relevance as it must have in the early 17th century. Monteverdi specialist and GRAMMY winner Stephen Stubbs leads his own ensemble, Pacific MusicWorks, in a concert version featuring Vancouver’s Colin Balzer in the title role.
‘The man is a genius. Oh, I meant Stubbs. But Monteverdi, too, was no slouch.’ – The Seattle Times
Supported by the Drance Family in honour of Stephen and Betty Drance and José Verstappen
After the opening Toccata, the Prologue presents La Musica, who greets the noble audience, praises the power of Music, and invites the onlookers to listen to the story of Orfeo.
Nymphs and shepherds sing joyously in anticipation of the marriage of Orfeo and Euridice, and the couple sing of their love for each other. After dances of celebration, Euridice and Sylvia leave the company to prepare for the ceremony, while the nymphs and shepherds continue their festivities.
Orfeo sings with his friends of his new found joy, and praises the natural beauty of the Arcadian surroundings in which he has found Euridice. Silvia breaks into their rejoicing to tell the terrible news of Euridice’s death after being bitten by a serpent. Devastated by her account, Orfeo vows to descend to Hades to reclaim Euridice, or to join her in death. As he departs, the company laments their grief at the loss of both the lovers.
Orfeo is led by the allegorical figure of Hope to the banks of the river Styx, across which lies the Underworld, but then he must continue alone. Caronte, the guardian boatman, appears in front of him and blocks his path. Orfeo invokes all the power of his singing to convince Caronte to let him enter the Underworld, but the boatman is unmoved. Finally the singing lulls the guardian to sleep. Seizing his opportunity, Orfeo steals the boat and rows across the river. A chorus of infernal spirits marks his entrance into Hades and praises his audacity.
In the Underworld, Proserpina, wife of the ruler Plutone, has been moved by the prayers and laments of Orfeo as he roams in search of his lost love, and pleads with her husband to restore Euridice to him. Her husband, touched by her tender entreaties, decrees that Orfeo may lead Euridice home, but must not look at her while still in the Underworld or she will be lost for all eternity. Orfeo appears leading Euridice, and sings praises to the power of his lyre that has led to her redemption, but gradually, doubts creep into his mind that he is being tricked, and he glances back; infernal spirits immediately pronounce the sentence and Euridice, in despair, is lost forever. An infernal chorus proclaims that Orfeo could conquer Hell but not himself.
Returning alone to the scene of his former joy, Orfeo laments his loss to Eco. He recalls the virtues of Euridice and vows never to love another woman. His father, Apollo, God of Music, descends and comforts Orfeo, and offers to lead him to eternal life and glory in Heaven, where he may see the likeness of Euridice in the sun and stars. As Orfeo and Apollo rise to Heaven singing, the chorus proclaims Orfeo’s celestial honour and declare that virtue will be justly rewarded, and a festive Moresca ends the fable.
Monteverdi’s masterpiece L’Orfeo is regarded today as the greatest monument in the early history of opera, but as a work whose portrayal of human emotions speaks directly to modern audiences, it needs no historical justification. The composer, a native of Cremona who spent his early professional years at the court of Mantua, is often credited with the invention of opera, but while he may be its first real master, he was not present at its birth. Inspired by classical writings of the power of music in ancient drama, a late-sixteenth-century group of musicians known as the Florentine Camerata devised a new kind of song called recitar cantando, which, in an attempt to imitate speech, used a rhetorical vocal line accompanied only by simple chords. The new style, halfway between speech and song, was used to replace spoken dialogue in some experimental theatrical works, and the first operas were born. The subject matter of these works was invariably drawn from ancient mythology: the first such work, composed in 1598 by the singer Peri, was La Dafne (now lost). Similar works followed, notably another by Peri and one by his rival, Caccini, both entitled L’Euridice, and both dealing with the legend of the ancient singer Orfeo. These early Florentine operas, exquisitely constructed with real dramatic sensitivity, were not meant as vehicles for music, but rather as a form of heightened drama. It was intended that the music should be subservient to the words, and their chief charm lies in the beauty of the poetry, and the self-effacing way in which the music disappears behind the singer’s declamation. In Mantua, Monteverdi’s noble employers, the Gonzagas, were great patrons of music and theatre, and were aware of these interesting Florentine experiments. Prince Francesco commissioned Monteverdi to write such an opera for his Academy (a sort of gentleman’s musical club), and the now-familiar Orfeo legend was chosen as the subject matter. Together with his librettist Alessandro Striggio, Monteverdi devised a work which clearly owed a great deal to Peri’s Euridice, but also enriched its structure with many elements derived from other traditional musical forms; the intermedio, the madrigal, and the dance. The composer also developed the recitar cantando of his predecessors, maintaining the speech-like inflection, but heightening its expressive value with a more interesting melodic line, and reinforcing the emotional content with a dramatic use of harmony and dissonance. The result is a remarkable synthesis in which the dramatic power of music is suitably demonstrated. It anticipates the emotional and musical developments of later opera, but still inhabits the refined, courtly world of the Renaissance.
L’Orfeo was performed before the Accademia degli Invaghiti, in an intimate room of the ducal palace, during the Carnival season of 1607. Duke Vincenzo was so delighted that he ordered another performance to be given for the ladies of the city, one week later. A third performance was planned for the visit of the Duke of Savoy, but his visit was cancelled, and the presentation did not take place. Although the score was published in 1609 and again in 1615, there are no records of other performances, and the work seems to have raised little attention at the time. Monteverdi himself regarded L’Orfeo as a useful stepping stone to his more acclaimed operatic work of 1608, L’Arianna (now unfortunately lost except for the famous lament), in which he felt he finally achieved the alliance of words and music that he sought. It is ironic that L’Orfeo, elevated today to a position of supreme importance in the history of early opera, was for the composer and his contemporaries merely regarded as an ephemeral entertainment for courtiers.
— Ray Nurse, 2000
Stephen Stubbs, music director
Stephen Stubbs, who won the GRAMMY Award as conductor for Best Opera Recording 2015, spent a 30-year career in Europe. He returned to his native Seattle in 2006 as one of the world’s most respected lutenists, conductors, and baroque opera specialists.
In 2007 Stephen established his new production company, Pacific MusicWorks, based in Seattle. He is the Boston Early Music Festival’s permanent artistic co-director, recordings of whichwere nominated for five GRAMMY awards. Also in 2015 BEMF recordings won two Echo Klassik awards and the Diapason d’Or de l’Année.
In addition to his ongoing commitments to PMW and BEMF, other recent appearances have included Handels’ Giulio Cesare and Gluck’s Orfeo in Bilbao, Mozart’s Magic Flute and Cosi fan Tutte in Hawaii and Handel’s Agrippina and Semele for Opera Omaha. He has conducted Handel’s Messiah with the Seattle, Edmonton and Birmingham Symphony orchestras.
His extensive discography as conductor and solo lutenist includes well over 100 CDs, which can be viewed at stephenstubbs.com, many of which have received international acclaim and awards. In 2013, Stephen was appointed Senior Artist in Residence at the University of Washington School of Music.
Stephen is represented by Schwalbe and Partners (schwalbeandpartners.com).
Pacific MusicWorks (PMW) works to bring internationally renowned artists into collaboration with leading musicians from the Northwest, and to foster creative dialogue among artists from a broad array of fields and cultures. The heart of its repertoire is 17th- and 18th-century vocal music, but performances range from the Renaissance to innovative contemporary works and from chamber music to fully staged operas.
In 2007, celebrated lutenist and conductor Stephen Stubbs, a specialist in 17th and 18th century vocal music, returned to Seattle from Bremen, Germany, and founded PMW. Stubbs, the 2015 GRAMMY Award winner as conductor of Best Opera Recording, and harpist Maxine Eilander also brought with them their highly successful Accademia d’Amore, a summer institute that trains young singers in Baroque opera annually drawing students from Europe and the Americas. Later association with the Cornish Institute and since 2013 with the University of Washington have provided continuing platforms for their extensive educational commitment.
In Seattle, Stubbs immediately established an impressive performance record in 2008 and 2009 by musically directing two Monteverdi masterpieces, L’Incoronazione di Poppea and Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in a production by South African artist William Kentridge with which he launched Pacific MusicWorks. Stubbs and PMW, invited to be artists in residence at St. James Cathedral have produced regular oratorio performances there including acclaimed cyclical performances of Monteverdi’s 1610 Vespers.
In collaboration with Seattle Symphony conductor Ludovic Morlot, Stubbs conceived and executed ͞The Passions Project͟ in 2013 with Morlot conducting the Symphony in the St.Matthew Passion, followed by Stubbs conducting the PMW Orchestra in the St. John Passion, both performances using the same international roster of vocal soloists. In 2016, PMW in collaboration with the University of Washington, produced an opulent staging of Gluck’s Orphée. This production featured tenor Aaron Sheehan’s role debut as Orphée, and pointed the way toward a March 2017 project featuring the GRAMMY- winning tenor in a program entitled Handel’s Tenor, which was subsequently recorded and is set for release in 2018.
Dark Horse Consort
The early music ensemble Dark Horse Consort is dedicated to unearthing the majestic late Renaissance and early Baroque repertoire for brass instruments. Inspired by the bronze horse statues in Venice’s famed St. Mark’s Basilica, the ensemble attempts to recreate the glorious sounds of composers such as Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Monteverdi and Heinrich Schütz. Dark Horse often expands to include vocalists and strings, which when combined recreates the rapturous kaleidoscope that was the sound of the early 17th century instrumental ensemble.
Dark Horse Consort has been featured on the San Francisco Early Music Series, the Boston Early Music Festival, the Renaissance and Baroque Society (Pittsburgh), The Academy of Early Music (Ann Arbor) in addition to multiple appearances throughout North America, including collaborations with vocal and instrumental groups such as The Toronto Consort, Blue Heron Choir (Boston), The Rose Ensemble (Minneapolis), Piffaro (Philadelphia), Tenet (NYC), Spire (Kansas City), Catacoustic Consort (Cincinnati), Bach Society Houston, Bach Collegium San Diego, Bach Vespers at Holy Trinity Lutheran (NYC), Seicento Baroque (Boulder), and the Clarion Music Society (NYC).
Upcoming performances include Monteverdi Vespers with the American Baroque Soloists in San Francisco, and Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo with Pacific MusicWorks in Seattle.
“BEMF Plus Dark Horse: Triumph” (Boston Musical Intelligencer)
“The magnificent trombones and cornetti…one of the best 1610 Vespers performances I have ever heard.” (Boston Musical Intelligencer)
“The Dark Horse Consort players were splendid.” (Boston Globe)
“The small orchestra played very well, notably…the cornet and Baroque trombone ensemble Dark Horse Consort, beautifully in tune, playing with subtlety and shading” (New York Arts)
“stellar music ensemble.” (New York Times)
Named by The New Yorker as a notable classical performance of 2013 (for a performance at the MET entitled, The Grand Tour)
Colin Balzer, Orfeo
With assured musicality and the varied tonal palette of a Lieder specialist, Canadian lyric tenor Colin Balzer’s North American engagements to date include recitals at New York’s Frick Collection and on the Philadelphia Chamber Music series; concerts with the Florida Orchestra, Portland, New Jersey, Montreal, Utah, Victoria, Ann Arbor, Québec, Atlanta and Indianapolis Symphonies; Early Music Vancouver; Toronto’s Tafelmusik and Toronto Mendelssohn Choir; Les Violons du Roy; the National and Calgary Philharmonics; Ottawa’s National Arts Centre Orchestra; Musica Sacra and the Oratorio Society of New York (both under Kent Tritle) at New York’s Carnegie Hall. In addition he is regularly featured in opera productions at the Boston Early Music Festival, including Steffani’s Niobe, Händel’s Almira, Lully’s Psyche, the title role of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, and Mattheson’s Boris Goudenow.
Guest soloist appearances abroad include Collegium Vocale Gent/ Philippe Herreweghe, Fundacao OSESP Orchestra/Louis Langrée, Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski, Rotterdam Philharmonic/Yannick Nézet-Séguin, Akademie für alte Musik/Marcus Creed, as well as with the RIAS Kammerchor, Het Brabants Orkest, Luxembourg Symphony, Leipzig Baroque Orchestra, Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Museumsorchester Salzburg, Radio Kamer Filharmonie (Amsterdam Concertgebouw), Philharmonischer Chor Berlin, Estonian Chamber Choir, Camerata Salzburg and Musik Podium Stuttgart. Operatic forays include Don Ottavio in Mozart’s Don Giovanni at the Bolshoi and in Aix-en-Provence, and Mozart’s La finta giardiniera in Aix and Luxemburg.
Particularly esteemed as a recitalist, he has been welcomed at London’s Wigmore Hall (accompanied by Graham Johnson), the Britten Festival in Aldeburgh, the Vancouver Chamber Music Festival, the Wratislavia Cantans in Poland, and at the Festspielhaus in Baden-Baden. Recordings to date include Wolf’s Italienisches Liederbuch and Eisler and Henze song anthologies. A prizewinner of Holland’s ‘s-Hertogenbosch Competition, the U.K.’s Wigmore Hall Song Competition, Stuttgart, Germany’s Hugo Wolf Competition and Munich’s 55th InternationalARD Competition, Mr. Balzer also holds the rare distinction of earning the Gold Medal at the Robert Schumann Competition in Zwickau with the highest score in 25 years. Born in British Columbia, he received his formal musical training at the University of British Columbia with David Meek, and with Edith Wiens at the Hochschule für Musik Nürnberg/Augsburg.