New York, NY – On September 1, 2, 3, 6, and 7 at 7:00 PM, Opera Omnia returns to Le Poisson Rouge to present Francesco Cavalli’s Giasone, fully staged, in an English edition by Paul C. Echols (originally prepared for the Mannes Camerata in 1987). Wesley Chinn, General Manager and Artistic Director of the company (now—for anyone who remembers Opera Omnia’s last press release—apparently willing to quote himself), describes the production as, among other things, “a tiny economic stimulus package. As a new company with no overhead, we had the liberty of spending no money and doing no productions. This kind of thinking, though, on a global level, is part of what’s responsible for our continuing economic woes, so we see undertaking a production as, among other things, our tiny way of helping the economy. From a liberal point of view, this is economic stimulus, taking money out of the hands of the relatively well-off and giving it to poor artists who will spend it immediately; from a conservative point of view, this is a chance to demonstrate supply-side economics in action.”
The company has been on a three-year recession-induced hiatus since 2008’s sold-out run of The Coronation of Poppea (also at Le Poisson Rouge) about which Classics Today raved “Virtually every aspect of this production leaves an audience desiring more,” and which Out in Jersey called “a crowd pleaser.” The New York Times said “there was a lot to be said for its directness” while calling us “a serious entry in the ranks of small-bore companies in New York” and the Wall Street Journal said “there were no barriers to comprehension….the audience of about 220 seemed riveted.” This production features the return of Hai-Ting Chinn and Cherry Duke (who the Times referred to as “the company’s firepower,” joined by a cast including soprano Katharine Dain, tenors Karim Sulayman and Isai Jess Morales, baritone Matthew Singer, and bass Nathan Baer.
Le Poisson Rouge was just opening as Opera Omnia presented our first show. In the intervening years, the club has grown into an integral part of the New York music scene, and we hope our return there will be the next step in cementing our own place in the city’s artistic landscape.
Giasone was perhaps the 17th century’s most-performed opera, and in it we can see the 17th-century Venetian style (of which Monteverdi’sCoronation of Poppea is the best-known example to modern audiences) in its full maturity, seamlessly mixing speech-like recitative with frequent short tunes (ariosi, for the musicologically inclined). The style exhibits the typical 17th-century mixture of the serious with the absurd (well-known to modern audiences in the comic scenes in Shakespeare’s tragedies), in this case interspersing a more-or-less serious plot that sees Jason delaying his quest for the Golden Fleece while he dallies with an unseen lover and is pursued by his abandoned wife with sub-plots involving amorous maids and a stuttering hunchback (there was a Venetian dwarf who was so skilled in his portrayal of this character that he was written into most of the Venetian operas of the time). These Venetian operas, performed during Carnival, attracted mass audiences of the paying public, and represented about as close as opera companies have ever come to being able to support themselves on ticket sales (we only wish we could do the same!).
Opera Omnia seeks to update this aesthetic by presenting our opera in a fashion more akin to what audiences today expect from a play (or perhaps a musical) than most opera. The use of English translation and the small space makes the text readily comprehensible, and in keeping with the 17th-century fashion, our costumes will have as much to do with contemporary fashion as with historical ideas, with the aim of serving the musical drama rather than being a distracting “concept.” This production will honor the musical material as well as the venue by drawing on elements of 17th-century silhouettes, vaudeville street theater, Greenwich Village vintage punk, and cabaret variety shows to serve the drama of the story (or else wind up as a hot mess, but we certainly hope not). Meanwhile, our historically-informed approach using period instruments will present Cavalli’s score in service of and partnership with the action on stage.
Paul C. Echols, who died in 1994, was for many years the director of the Mannes Camerata, prepared several English-language editions of 17th-century operas, which he presented at Mannes. These editions were (and are) notable for their combination of scholarship and also their effectiveness. This edition of Giasone was originally presented in 1987 by the Mannes Camerata, and it brings out the bawdy humor and colloquial accessibility of Cavalli’s original, while the changes Echols made (including a myriad of cuts and transpositions) are firmly in keeping with 17th-century ideas about the relative importance of adhering to a canonical text versus preparing a rendition that works for the performers one has at hand. We hope that this performance will be a fitting tribute to Echols’s legacy of English-language baroque opera in the city.
About Opera Omnia
Opera Omnia aims to combine a deep knowledge of historical performance practice with a modern theatrical aesthetic to produce performances that are musically and dramatically satisfying to both the veteran classical concertgoer and to those new to the genre. We initially concentrate on musical-dramatic works of the early 17th century, performing them in English translation and modern staging. Our approach seeks to bring new audiences to these early opera masterworks while shedding new light on the works for those already familiar with them.
About Le Poisson Rouge
(Le) Poisson Rouge is a multimedia art cabaret founded by musicians on the site of the historic Village Gate. Dedicated to the fusion of popular and art cultures in music, film, theater, dance, and fine art, the venue’s mission is to revive the symbiotic relationship between art and revelry; to establish a creative asylum for both artists and audiences.
LPR prides itself in offering the highest quality eclectic programming, impeccable acoustics, and bold design. The state-of-the art performance space, engineered by the legendary John Storyk/WSDG, offers full flexibility in multiple configurations: seated, standing, in-the-round, and numerous alternative arrangements. The adjoining lounge is open during the day as a café, and at night as a secondary bar and event space. A work of art itself, the physical facilities are the embodiment of the experimental philosophy that drives the venue.www.lprnyc.com
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