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1996-97: Magnificat’s Fifth Season

Magnificat’s fifth season featured programs that explored the music of new composers (for our series) Buxtehude, Cavalli and Marazzoli, our first modern premiere, along with another masterpiece by an old favorite, Charpentier. It was a season of contrasts in nationalities and genres: a North German cantata cycle, a reconstruction of a Venetian vespers, the staged production of the first Italian opera performed in France and a very Italianate French setting of the Orpheus legend.

The season opened with Dietrich Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri. Published in 1680, the cycle sets texts drawn from a 13th century poem, Oratio Rythmica, formerly thought to be by Bernard Clairvaux and now attributed to Arnulf of Louvain, together with scriptural verses. Arnulf’s poem also served as the basis of a cycle of hymns by Paul Gerhardt and for this program Magnificat integrated Gerhardt’s hymns, preceding each of the sections of Buxtehude’s cycle. Magnificat would return to Buxtehude’s several times in the following seasons and revive this program for 2002-2003 season.

In December, Magnificat appeared on the San Francisco Early Music Society series, beginning a run of four consecutive seasons in which we provided their holiday concerts. For the December 1996 program Magnificat turned to one of Monteverdi’s colleagues at San Marco, Francesco Cavalli, whose monumental Musiche Sacre of 1656 provided the psalms and Magnificat for a Christmas Vespers. Best known to music history as the finest of the first generation of Venetian opera composers, Cavalli was also a prolific composer of sacred music and was employed at San Marco for a half century, first as an organist and later as maestro di capella. As substitutes for the antiphons after the psalms, Magnificat played five sonatas by another successor of Monteverdi at San Marco, Giovanni Legrenzi, and in place of the antiphon following the Magnificat, we performed a Cavalli Canzona. Magnificat will perform Cavalli’s Magnificat again this December.

In March 1997, Magnificat presented our first modern premiere, the opera Il Capriccio by Roman composer Marco Marrazoli, a work that had not been performed since the middle of the 17th Century. Warren Stewart and Susan Harvey prepared a modern edition from facsimiles of the only surviving manuscript score, now housed in the Chigi collection of the Vatican Library in Rome. Like Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo, Marrazoli’s Il Capriccio is allegorical, and although it is a comedy, its principal interest, and its principal characters, are concepts: Caprice, Deceit, Reason, True Love, Beauty, Jealousy, Shock and Time (along with Beauty’s maid servants, played in drag by Neal Rogers and Raymond Martinez for Magnificat’s production.)

As Joshua Kosman described in his thoughtful review “the title character, aided by Deceit, seduces Beauty away from her moping swain True Love; but of course his interest wanes quickly, leaving her to enlist the help of Jealousy in making him return. Presiding over it all is Reason, whose clear-eyed perceptiveness does not preclude a puckish sense of humor.” The production was Magnificat’s first to use supertitles thanks to equipment purchased with the help of a grant from the San Francisco Grants for the Arts. Costumes, many loaned from American Conservatory Theater, were designed by Callie Flor.

The season concluded with Charpentier’s setting of the Orpheus legend, La Descente d’Orphée aux enfers. A work that defies categorization, sharing aspects of cantata and opera, Orphée was one of the last works charpentier composed for the Hôtel de Guise, where he lived and worked for almost two decades after his return from his studies with Carissimi in Rome. Magnificat will open our 20th season with a revival of this exquisite piece.

After the final performance of Orphée, Magnificat marked the completion of our fifth season by treating the audience to a reception that included a performance of Charpentier’s very silly “La, la, la Bonjour” and other equally ridiculous works. Both musicians and audience members enjoyed the opportunity to share wine and cheese after the final concert and receptions after the Sunday afternoon concerts soon became a feature of every Magnificat set.

Over the course of the season artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Roberto Balconi, Peter Becker, Amy Brodo, Louise Carslake, Hugh Davies, Paul Del Bene, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Ruth Escher, Melissa Fogarty, Boyd Jarrell, Julie Jeffrey, Suzanne Elder Wallace, Jennifer Ellis, Raymond Martinez, Judith Nelson, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Michael Sand, Mary Springfels, David Stattelman, Bill Wahman, David Wilson, and Randall Wong.

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