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A Northwest Baroque Masterworks Project in collaboration with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra
Wildly virtuosic works by Handel and the rival composers from 18th century London’s ‘Opera of the Nobility’ who briefly put him out of business. Music by Porpora, Hasse, Veracini and others.
“Possessed of astounding technique, deep musicality and undeniable charm, the young American lyric soprano Amanda Forsythe has taken the world of early music by storm”. – Opera News
Supported by Bruce Wright
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Johann Adolph Hasse (1699-1783)
Sinfonia to Artaserse
Allegro, Un poco Lento, Allegro assai
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Largo from concerto grosso op 3/2
“Mio caro bene” from Rodelinda
Nicola Porpora (1686-1768)
“Miseri sventurati” from Arianna
Francesco Maria Veracini (1690-1768)
Concerto for violin & strings
Allegro, Grave, Presto
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
“Piangero” from Giulio Cesare
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Suite from HWV 342, 346 & Watermusic
Allegro, Air, Marche, Hornpipe
“Se’l mio duol” from Rodelinda
Giovanni Bononcini (1670-1747)
“Difese mi giurasti” from Astianatte
George Frideric Handel (1685-1759)
Adagio from concerto grosso op 3/1
Adagio from concerto grosso op 3/3
“Da tempeste” from Giulio Cesare
Interest in opera never quite blossomed in seventeenth-century England. In 1692, the editor of the Gentleman’s Journal summed up the English attitude to opera thus: “Other Nations bestow the name of Opera only on such Plays whereof every word is sung. But experience hath taught us that our English genius will not rellish [sic] that perpetual Singing.” Times had apparently changed by the eighteenth century, however, as from about 1705 onward, the Queen’s Theater in Haymarket acquired an impressive roster of instrumentalists and began to perform imported Italian operas. George Frideric Handel had the honor of supplying the first opera composed specifically for this stage, Rinaldo, in 1711, shortly after his arrival on the Fairest Isle. He had acquired mastery of the Italian style during his time spent in Rome the previous four years. In 1719, King George I authorized the creation of the Royal Academy of Music to stage Italian operas. Handel, who had established a significant reputation for himself by that point, was requested by the Earl of Burlington to travel to the Continent to collect the best singers he could for the new company. Burlington himself traveled to Rome to entice Italian composer Giovanni Bononcini to join Handel as co-musical-director of the venture. Handel returned with four castrati, including the highly sought-after Senesino (castrati traditionally took a single name as their stage name). These male singers—castrated before adolescence to retain a boy’s vocal range with an adult’s vocal power—had to be sourced from Italy, as other nations had understandably mixed feelings about the process of creating them. Their importation was indispensable to bringing the incredibly virtuosic arias of Italian opera to life on foreign soil.
Italian-trained female singers played as crucial a part in the Academy’s success as the castrati. Francesca Cuzzoni attained great acclaim as the Academy’s prima donna during the 1720s. She sang the role of Cleopatra in Handel’s Giulio Cesare(1724) opposite Senesino, who took the title role. Cleopatra’s arias “Piangerò” and “Da tempeste il legno infranto” occur in quick succession in Act III of the opera and show the incredible range of emotion that Handel demanded of his singers. The first of these arias finds the Egyptian Queen sentenced to prison by her power-hungry brother Tolomeo. She first laments her fate, expecting to die, but in the central section of this da capo aria, she vows to come back as a specter to torment her prisoner. Such a quick shift of dramatic affect is a typical device of Handel and his contemporaries: In the ABA standard aria format of the time, the “B” section often displays a drastic shift in mood, only to return to the original sentiment at the conclusion. “Da tempeste” occurs after Caesar, believed to be dead, rescues Cleopatra, prompting her to express her triumph in a dazzling array of coloratura. Cleopatra’s mastery of her situation therefore finds musical embodiment in the singer’s mastery of her voice.
Cuzzoni played the title role in Handel’s Rodelinda (1725), again opposite Senesino, who portrayed her supposedly deceased husband and king, Bertarido. Rodelinda discovers that her husband still lives, but not before she grudgingly promises to marry a usurper to the throne, Grimoaldo. After Rodelinda finds out that Bertarido is still alive, Grimoaldo throws the former king in jail, believing him to be an imposter. In Act III, Bertarido escapes prison with the assistance of an ally of his, Unulfo, who sustains an injury as they leave the cell together. Rodelinda visits the cell only to find it empty and covered in blood. Fearing the worst, she sings the aria “Se ‘l mio duol non è sì forte” to express her grief and her desire to die rather than to live with her anguish. As we hear the descending, chromatic bassline and the musical sighs that Handel weaves over the top, we mourn with Rodelinda. Her long, often dissonant, sustained notes reach out to infinity to express her longing for an escape from what she believes is the loss of her husband. Of course, Bertarido is really alive, and upon Rodelinda’s discovery of this fact after a few scenes, her aria “Mio caro bene” celebrates their newly unobstructed love. Perhaps more importantly to Cuzzoni, there was a final chance for a display of vocal fireworks before the end of the opera.
Despite the success enjoyed by Handel and his singers during in the mid-1720s, 1727 ended the Academy’s string of successful seasons. Bononcini faced increasing difficulties in England due to mounting anti-Catholic sentiments, and Astianattewould be his last opera for the Britons. Cuzzoni by this point had problems, as well: In 1726, the nobles who operated the Academy insisted on bringing in new blood to stimulate interest in the subscribers. Soprano Faustina Bordoni arrived in London that year, which saw her cast in rival roles to Cuzzoni on the same stage. During the premiere of Astianatte, the sopranos’ increasing resentment toward one another exploded into an onstage brawl. The audience also became involved, and a veritable riot ensued. Several nobles, appalled, saw to it that the theater shut its doors. After a brief hiatus, however, the Academy was able to resume productions the following autumn.
For reasons that still remain unclear, a rival group of nobles set up a new opera company in 1733. Given the difficulties that Handel was beginning to encounter to keep up audience interest, it seems strange this new Opera of the Nobility formed in the first place. The new company hired Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora, who supplied Arianna in Nasso as the premier work. The Academy then saw Senesino and Cuzzoni stolen from them by this rival new venture. The aria “Miseri sventurati”, originally sung by Cuzzoni, shows Porpora’s more modern, emerging galant style as cultivated by the Neapolitans. The simple accompaniment texture of repeated eighth notes, relatively slow and steady chord changes, and frequent small-scale repetitions are all hallmarks of this style, which therefore contrasts with Handel’s more old-fashioned—albeit richer—language. The Opera of the Nobility managed to stage several works by Continental composers, including Johann Adolf Hasse and Francesco Maria Veracini, yet England’s fickle interest was not enough to offset the huge debts incurred by the directors. Both rival opera companies went defunct in 1738.
Handel, however, had long guaranteed his personal success by securing a number of patrons for his music. After abandoning opera, he turned to the oratorio genre, of which Messiah is the best known. He supplied occasional music to the monarchy, including the Water Music, written for a ceremonial journey down the River Thames taken by George I in 1717. Handel also published instrumental music, though the Concerti Grossi, Op.3 (1734), were probably printed without his authorization or supervision. Certain of the concerti are composites or clippings from various earlier works, and therefore, performing individual movements from the pieces does them no injustice, since they were not necessarily conceived as cohesive wholes in the first place.
– Justin Henderlight
Amanda Forsythe, soprano
Amanda Forsythe performs regularly with many leading baroque ensembles including Apollo’s Fire, Boston Baroque, Handel and Haydn Society, Les Talens Lyriques, Pacific Musicworks, Philharmonia Baroque, Vancouver Early Music, and Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF) with whom many of her performances have been recorded commercially.
She sang Eurydice on BEMF’s GRAMMY-winning recording of Charpentier’s La descente d’Orphée aux enfers, released her début solo album The Power of Love with Apollo’s Fire on the Avie label and recorded Euridice in the 1774 version of Gluck’s Orfeo with Philippe Jaroussky for ERATO.
Major symphony orchestra engagements include Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Boston Symphony and Los Angeles Philharmonic), Mozart Requiem (The Philadelphia Orchestra), Bach Magnificat (Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia), Handel’s Sileti venti and Laudate pueri, Messiah and Schubert Mass No 6 in E Flat (Chicago Symphony), Mozart C Minor Mass and Requiem (Monteverdi Choir and Orchestra) and Mozart Concert Arias (Kymi Sinfonietta, Finland).
Opera roles include Jemmy Guillaume Tell, Corinna Il viaggio a Reims and Rosalia L’equivoco stravagante (Pesaro), Dalinda Ariodante (Geneva, Munich), Nannetta Falstaff, Amour Orphée, Manto Niobe and Barbarina Le nozze di Figaro (Royal Opera, London), Pamina Die Zauberflöte (Seattle and Rome), Iris Semele (Seattle), Partenope (title role) and Poppea Agrippina (Boston Baroque), Isabelle Le Carnaval de Venise, Serpina La serva padrona, Edilia Almira and the title roles in L’incoronazione di Poppea, Venus and Adonis, and Niobe (BEMF).
Forthcoming engagements include a concert tour with Philippe Jaroussky, Messiah (Lucerne Symphony Orchestra), Handel arias and Vivaldi’s Gloria (Chicago Symphony), Semele (Opera Philadelphia), Pamina Die Zauberflöte (Komische Oper, Berlin) and Marzelline Fidelio (Royal Opera, Covent Garden).
Alexander Weimann, director
Alexander Weimann is one of the most sought-after ensemble directors, soloists, and chamber music partners of his generation. After traveling the world with ensembles like Tragicomedia, and as frequent guest with 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.
Weimann was born in 1965 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, Weimann 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 and the Bremen Musikhochschule, and at North American universities such as The University of California in Berkeley, Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, McGill University, Université de Montréal, and Mount Allison in New Brunswick. Since 2007, he has conducted several acclaimed opera productions at the Amherst Early Music Festival. He now teaches at the University of British Columbia and directs the Baroque Orchestra Mentorship Programme there.
A multiple JUNO and GRAMMY nominee, Weimann can be heard on some 100 CDs. Highlights include an Opus and JUNO award-winning CD of Handel oratorio arias with soprano Karina Gauvin, a recording of Bach’s St. John’s Passion with Les Voix Baroques/Arion Baroque Orchestra, a JUNO nominated recording of Handel’s Orlando with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra that was also awarded a Gramophone Editor’s Choice award, and most recently, the JUNO-nominated album Nuit Blanches with the Pacific Baroque Orchestra and Karina Gauvin.
Pacific Baroque Orchestra
The Pacific Baroque Orchestra (PBO) is recognized as one of Canada’s most exciting and innovative ensembles performing “early music for modern ears”. PBO brings the music of the past up to date by performing with cutting-edge style and enthusiasm. 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 Artistic Director. His imaginative programming and expert leadership have drawn in many new concertgoers, and his 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 BC, the northern United States and across Canada. Their 2019 East Coast Canadian tour with Canadian soprano Karina Gauvin showcased the rarely-heard opera arias of 18th century Russia, culminating in a critically acclaimed album “Nuit Blanches” released by Atma Classique. The musicians of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra have been at the core of many large-scale productions by Early Music Vancouver in recent years, including many summer festival performances led by Alexander Weimann.