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The British composer Thomas Adès has been writing intricately structured and colorfully orchestrated music for nearly two decades now. Before he became a composer, though, he trained for a career as pianist, and he has the formidable technique and deep musicianship of a great player.
New Century Chamber Orchestra’s current program, titled “Serenades and Dances,” bookends a pair of shorter, lighter works around a core of two large-scale mainstays of the standard repertory, Antonin Dvořák’s Serenade for Strings and Benjamin Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. Big kudos are due Music Director Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, for her programming and musical leadership, because on Thursday, at Berkeley’s First Congregational Church, all four works got top-notch, absorbing performances, with the Britten lifted to greatness by the brilliance of tenor Brian
The San Francisco Symphony Chamber Music concert on Sunday marked George Benjamin’s third and last appearance as the Phyllis C. Wattis Composer in Residence. He was represented on the program by two works, Viola, Viola; and Piano Figures. Both are superb additions to their respective repertories. (See SFCV’s recent feature on the composer.)
And that’s just what you can see next month when Magnificat Baroque, in collaboration with the Carter Family Marionettes, presents Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero dall’isola d’Alcina (The liberation of Ruggiero from the island of Alcina) on Oct. 16, 17, and 18 in three venues.
In La liberazione, the wicked sorceress Alcina seduces the warrior Ruggiero, who dwells happily on Alcina’s island until finally the good sorceress Melissa shames him into returning to battle — and, incidentally, to his fiancée, the warrior maiden Bradamante. The plot comes from an episode in the epic Renaissance poem Orlando Furioso, by Ariosto, which is in turn based on the medieval French poem The Song of Roland.
That’s where the puppets come in.
The Carter Family Marionettes, who are providing the staging for La liberazione, perform in the Sicilian opera dei pupi tradition, a style that flourished in the 19th century, but that stretches back for centuries. Their puppets are large, and the puppeteers control them with iron rods. The entire repertory of opera dei pupi plays comes from The Song of Roland, so the puppets are a natural pairing with La liberazione.
“I’m especially excited to be working with the Carter Family again,” Magnificat Director Warren Stewart told SFCV. “We did some shows together in the 1990s, and they were tremendous fun. Hardly a concert has gone by since then when an audience member hasn’t come up to me to ask when we’ll do another puppet show. The Carters are great at connecting with the audience and already had a very funny and engaging production of La liberazione in their repertory.”
“La liberazione is a particularly interesting project for us because of the circumstances of its creation,” Stewart continued. “We’ve done a great deal of music by women composers of the Baroque, and La liberazione, by Francesca Caccini, is the first opera composed by a woman. She was also the first woman to have a professional career as a court musician.
“La liberazione was commissioned by Caccini’s employer, the Archduchess Maria Magdalena of Austria, who was a Hapsburg married to the Medici Duke. After he died, she ruled Tuscany for seven years as regent for her teenaged son. La liberazione was an occasional piece, written for performance during a state visit by Maria’s nephew Wladyslaw, the crown prince of Poland. It would have been the opening work of a long entertainment that included a horse ballet.
“Suzanne Cusick’s research suggests that the particular episode in Orlando Furioso was very likely chosen because of the two powerful women sorceresses, as part of a process of buttressing and normalizing female leadership within Tuscany.
“The music itself is absolutely gorgeous,” Stewart said. “For example, there’s a wonderful lament for Alcina, which she sings after Ruggiero leaves her. We have a wonderful countertenor, José Limos, singing Melissa, the good witch. The part is for either an alto or a high tenor, and we’ll have a male singer as a female character who transforms herself into a male character to liberate Ruggiero from the bad witch! Above all, this opera is fun”
Puppets, gender-bending characters, and the first opera written by a woman — what more could you want?More about Magnificat »
Soprano Patricia Racette is in town for an important role debut: She’s singing all three soprano leads in Puccini's Il trittico at San Francisco Opera, a feat only a few have tried. She took time out from rehearsals to talk about her career, her plans, and her life with mezzo-soprano Beth Clayton, her partner of many years.
Tell us about San Francisco Opera’s Merola and Adler programs and their importance in your career.
Members of New York’s venerable Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center are spending April touring a program called American Voices. Thursday at Herbst Theatre, the centerpiece of the program, which spans the 18th to 21st centuries, was a new song cycle by Alan Louis Smith, Vignettes: Covered Wagon Woman.
On Sunday, at Hertz Hall, the Takács Quartet played the second of their two Berkeley concerts this season. As with the first concert, an eminent guest joined the quartet. This time, we were lucky enough to hear Peter Wyrick, associate principal cellist of the San Francisco Symphony. While the repertory for cello quintet is bigger than you might think, Wyrick's appearance signaled a performance of the greatest of them all, and indeed one of the greatest of all chamber works, Schubert's C-Major Quintet, D. 956.