Christ Church Cathedral Victoria
Jacqueline Woodley, soprano; Tyler Duncan, baritone; Pacific Baroque Orchestra directed by Alexander Weimann
In Apollo e Dafne, Handel retells the ancient story of a boastful god’s frustrated love and a determined nymph’s unbending resistance. This dramatic cantata, completed after Handel’s return from Italy, exudes the fresh vitality and self-assurance of a newly famous composer at his homecoming and hints at the future glories of his opera career. Alongside this colourful early work, the Pacific Baroque Orchestra presents Vivaldi’s Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major (“La Notte”) and Handel’s Overture to Agrippina.
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Ouverture from Agrippina, HWV 6
Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741)
Bassoon Concerto in B-flat major (“La Notte”), RV 501
Largo – Andante molto
Gli Istromenti sempre pianissimo (Il Sonno)
Allegro (Sorge l’Aurora)
George Frideric Handel
Apollo e Dafne (La terra è liberata), HWV 122
From 1738 to 1818, visitors to London’s Vauxhall gardens flocked to see Louis Roubiliac’s marble statue of George Frideric Handel, who had by that time won his share of laurels as England’s musical hero. The “laurels” are metaphorical in this case, because Roubiliac’s Handel is dressed not in classical regalia but in comfortable contemporary dress: casually leaning on a stack of his own musical scores, he sports a soft cloth cap, a simple shirt open at the collar, a loose robe and slippers—a composer at work in his own home. Despite this homely depiction, to be represented by a life-sized marble statue was a rare and perhaps unprecedented honour for a living composer, one usually reserved for rulers and military heroes. This contrast is brought out by the one deliberate anachronism introduced by Roubiliac in his portrait of Handel: the ancient Greek lyre that the composer is plucking with his right hand. The instrument suggests a resemblance to the mythical musician Orpheus, or even—as the inlaid face and radiating sunbeams on the lyre would suggest—to the Greek sun-god Apollo himself.
If in Roubiliac’s statue we can see Handel at the noontide of his career, then the first light of his success must have appeared during his years abroad in Italy. Pausing his early operatic pursuits in Hamburg, Handel set out for Italy in his early twenties (around 1706). As well as the great cultural centres of Florence, Naples, and Venice, Handel spent time in Rome making connections with the artistic, intellectual, and clerical elite; it was a Roman Cardinal, Benedetto Pamphili, who furnished Handel with the libretto for his first big oratorio, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno, and who also provided the text for the dramatic cantata Apollo e Dafne, which Handel finally completed sometime around his appointment in Hanover in 1710.
Handel had already treated the story of Dafne, well known from Ovid’s enduringly popular Metamorphoses, as part of a German double opera in his Hamburg days; perhaps both he and Pamphili had drawn further inspiration from the sculpture of Apollo and Dafne by Gian Lorenzo Bernini, the master sculptor of seventeenth-century Rome. Housed in the Villa Borghese, Bernini’s Apollo e Dafne is a powerful drama distilled into a single moment: as Apollo catches the distraught Dafne, her legs are becoming encased in bark and her hands are already branching into the laurel boughs that will later crown the most honoured heroes.
Because of a papal decree prohibiting the performance of opera in Rome, composers and audiences in the city turned all the more eagerly to oratorio and the dramatic cantata, which (like the operas of the day) told stories by alternating speech-like recitatives with arias that explored and expressed characters’ inner emotions. Apollo e Dafne is one of Handel’s largest cantatas and it draws on musical resources appropriate to the opera stage, all packaged in a miniature drama requiring only two singers; the strategic addition of oboes and flute to the string ensemble adds a new range of orchestral colour that is carefully deployed in the course of the story.
The close kinship with opera leads many modern-day musicians and researchers to wonder at the absence of an ouverture—the obligatory opera opener—in surviving copies of the cantata, and Apollo e Dafne is often prefaced in performance with the ouverture of some other of Handel’s dramatic works. Tonight’s concert begins with the ouverture to Agrippina, Handel’s first international hit. Agrippina opened the Venice carnival season of 1709-10, and enjoyed an extraordinary run of twenty-seven performances. The libretto, based on the machinations of the Roman nobility under Emperor Claudius, was written by another of Handel’s acquaintances from Rome, Cardinal Vincenzo Grimani. Beginning with the dotted rhythms and tirades (quick runs) characteristic of the French style, the opera’s ouverture seems to anticipate the twists and turns of the plot with the breakneck pace and crazy harmonic shifts of its concerto-like fast section.
While Handel was winning international fame with Agrippina, Antonio Vivaldi (also in Venice) was navigating changing circumstances of employment as he made a name for himself as a composer. Also a prolific writer for the opera stage, Vivaldi is most closely associated today with his post at the Pio Ospedale della Pietà, an orphanage for girls that provided an excellent musical education; many of Vivaldi’s concertos were created for his skilled pupils.
Whether the same can be said of RV 501 is uncertain. This B flat major bassoon concerto is one of a cluster of related pieces that all bear the subtitle “La Notte” (“The Night”); Vivaldi clearly associated the night with woodwinds, because each of these concertos features a solo bassoon, flute, or both. (The bassoon is surprisingly common as a solo instrument in Vivaldi’s concertos, and the wide leaps and rapid finger-work in his bassoon writing show that he had a skilled player at his disposal.) More cheerful than the other “La Notte” concertos, RV 501 moves through a number of descriptively titled passages: “Fantasmi” evokes ghosts with its swooping runs and ethereal sustained chords; “Il Sonno” is a portrait of sleep, with a calm string accompaniment over rocking bassoon arpeggios; finally, “Sorge l”Aurora” depicts the sunrise in a ritornello-form movement reminiscent of the famous Four Seasons.
Vivaldi’s rising sun drives away the swirling “fantasmi”; Handel’s Apollo enters the scene as a conquering hero who has also repelled the forces of darkness. Pamphili’s libretto for Apollo e Dafne follows Ovid’s telling of the story: after saving Greece from the monstrous Python, Apollo boasts of his victory by belittling the archery of Cupid (“Amore”). Cupid quickly gets his revenge, however, by causing Apollo to fall in love with the nymph Dafne, who rejects him in favour of her freedom and her allegiance to the virgin-goddess Diana (also called “Cynthia”). When the god chases her, Dafne desperately calls to her father, a river god, to destroy her beauty (interestingly, Pamphili’s version leaves this appeal of Dafne’s implicit—contemporary audiences would probably have assumed it from their own familiarity with the story). She is transformed into a laurel tree, and a mournful Apollo vows to wear her branches in his hair and to make them the crown of future victors and champions (“laureates”).
Typically, Handel relies on the two staples of baroque opera, recitative and the “da capo” aria, which returns to the beginning (the head, “capo”) after a contrasting middle section. Apollo e Dafne’s recitatives begin with the sun-god’s blustery monologues before delivering the intense and fast-paced dialogue between the two protagonists. Handel also uses a wide range of aria styles, suggesting everything from pastoral idyll to military fanfare, love song and lament.
Whereas visual artists like Bernini gloried in depicting Ovid’s scenes of metamorphosis, such transformations posed challenges to musical drama: whether in opera or cantata, the audience (barring special effects) can’t see Dafne turn into a tree, so a composer and librettist have to communicate the event through language and music. Handel and Pamphili respond by having us witness Dafne’s metamorphosis through Apollo’s eyes: in the middle of his chase aria, right before the expected “da capo” return and (we might imagine) before he catches the nymph, the music veers off instead into an anguished recitative in which Apollo struggles to understand her sudden disappearance and her new form. This ending raises ambiguous feelings: the sun-god is heartbroken and humbled, but at what cost? One gift of Apollo and his artistic successors (among them Handel) was to render such grief and such questions—as well as the brilliant joy of the triumphant hero—in forms that would remain, like the laurel, evergreen.
Notes by Connor Page
Jacqueline Woodley, soprano
Canadian soprano Jacqueline Woodley has been praised for her fearless versatility, changing styles fluidly from early music to contemporary, from opera to art song.
Recent performances include her Montreal Symphony Orchestra debut under Kent Nagano; the role of Adele (Die Fledermaus) with Edmonton Opera; appearances at the Vancouver Early Music Festival and the Ottawa International Music Festival with Les Voix Baroques; a soprano and trumpet programme for Clavecin en Concert and La Fête de la Musique de Mont-Tremblant; and Handel’s Messiah both for the National Arts Centre Orchestra and in a staged version for Against the Grain Theatre.
Sought after for her “exceptional talent” in performing modern works, Jacqueline created the role of Milice-Bride in the première of Ana Sokolovic’s opera Svaba-Wedding with Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, as well as the American première with Philadelphia Opera and subsequent Canadian and European tours. Other well-received performances of contemporary music include works by György Kurtág, Kaija Saariaho and Judith Weir.
A recent alumna of the Canadian Opera Company Studio Ensemble (2010-2012), she performed and covered several main stage roles, among which Olympia (Contes d’Hoffmann), Amore (Orfeo ed Euridice), First Priestess (Iphigénie en Tauride), Page (Rigoletto), Lace Seller (Death in Venice), and was heard in the Studio Ensemble productions as Iris in Semele and the “deliciously sexy” Papagena in Die Zauberflöte.
Possessing a strong affinity for concert works, Jacqueline has sung Bach’s Saint John Passion, Orff’s Carmina Burana, Fauré and Mozart’s Requiem, Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, Mercure’s Cantate pour une joie, Haydn’s The Creation, Pärt’s Stabat Mater, and Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem.
Jacqueline holds a master’s in opera from McGill University, and upcoming performances include Messiah with Aradia Ensemble and Papagena with Edmonton Opera.
Tyler Duncan, baritone
Sought-after baritone Tyler Duncan appears regularly on major concert stages around the world. Recent critics have called his performances “eloquent,” “charismatic,” and “stunning,” and praised his “refined, burnished voice” and “impeccable phrasing.” Tyler has recently appeared in concerts with the Minnesota Orchestra, the Toronto Symphony, the Kansas City Symphony, the New York Philharmonic, and at the Wigmore Hall.
Also accomplished on the opera stage, Tyler has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera as Prince Yamadori in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly under Karel Chichon, among many other Met Opera roles. Other recent roles include Morales in Bizet’s Carmen under Seiji Ozawa, and appearances in the Spoleto Festival as the Speaker in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Duncan is also passionate about new opera; recent roles include Raymond in Nic Gotham’s Nigredo Hotel with City Opera Vancouver, and in the world premiere of Jonathan Berger’s Leonardo at New York’s 92nd Street Y.
Mr. Duncan also performs as a duo with pianist Erika Switzer, celebrating songs from the Romantic period as well as the work of living composers. Together the pair have premiered dozens of new compositions.
Tyler’s recordings include the newly released album English Songs à la française with Erika Switzer, the Juno Award winning Vaughan-Williams Serenade to Music with Peter Ounjian and the Toronto Symphony, Earthquakes and Islands: an album of songs by Andrew Staniland with texts by Robin Richardson, the title role in John Blow’s Venus and Adonis with Boston Early Music Festival, J.S. Bach’s St. John Passion with the Portland Baroque Orchestra, Purcell works and Carissimi’s Jephte with Les Voix Baroque, and a DVD of Handel’s Messiah with Kent Nagano and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. His singing has been recognized internationally with numerous awards, including Grammy and Juno nominations and prizes from the Naumburg, London’s Wigmore Hall, and Munich’s ARD competitions.
Originally from British Columbia, Canada, Mr. Duncan resides in New York’s beautiful Hudson Valley. www.tylerduncan.ca
Nathan Helgeson, bassoon
Pacific Baroque Orchestra
The ‘house band’ of Early Music Vancouver, The Pacific Baroque Orchestra (PBO) is recognized as one of Canada’s most exciting and innovative ensembles performing “early music for modern ears.” Formed in 1990, the orchestra quickly established itself as a force in Vancouver’s burgeoning music scene with the ongoing support of Early Music Vancouver. In 2009, PBO welcomed Alexander Weimann as Director. His imaginative programming, creativity and engaging musicianship have carved out a unique and vital place in the cultural landscape of Vancouver.
PBO regularly joins forces with internationally-celebrated Canadian guest artists, providing performance opportunities for Canadian musicians while exposing West Coast audiences to a spectacular variety of talent. The Orchestra has also toured throughout BC, the northern United States, and across Canada. Their 2019 East Coast Canadian tour with Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin culminated in a critically acclaimed album, Nuit Blanches, released by Atma Classique.
Alexander Weimann, music director
Alexander Weimann is one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, and chamber music partners of his generation. After travelling the world with ensembles such as Tragicomedia, Cantus Cölln, the Freiburger Barockorchester, Gesualdo Consort and Tafelmusik, he now focuses on his activities as Music Director of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra in Vancouver, Music Director of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, and regular guest conductor of ensembles including the Victoria Symphony, Symphony Nova Scotia, Arion Baroque Orchestra in Montreal and the Portland Baroque Orchestra.
Alex was born in Munich, where he studied the organ, church music, musicology (with a summa con laude thesis on Bach’s secco recitatives), theatre, mediæval Latin, and jazz piano, supported by a variety of federal scholarships. From 1990 to 1995, he taught music theory, improvisation, and Jazz at the Munich Musikhochschule. Since 1998, he has been giving master classes in harpsichord and historical performance practice at institutions such as Lunds University in Malmö, the Bremen Musikhochschule, the University of California (Berkeley), Dartmouth College (New Hampshire), McGill University, Université de Montréal, and Mount Allison (New Brunswick). He now teaches at the University of British Columbia and directs the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Programme there. He has received several JUNO and GRAMMY Award nominations – most recently, for the album Nuit Blanches with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Karina Gauvin.