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1997-98: Magnificat’s Sixth Season

Magnificat’s sixth season expanded on repertoire and genres that we had explored in out first five seasons and included a program of chamber cantatas by Buxtehude, a revival of Charpentier’s Nativity Pastorale, an Annunciation Vespers with music by Maurizio Cazzati and Giovanni Legrenzi and another opera pardoy – this times with puppets – and chickens!

The enthusiastic response to our performances of Buxtehude’s cantata cycle Membra Iesu nostri in 1996 encouraged us to explore more of the composer’s music and we turned to the extensive repertoire for one, two and three voices with violins and continuo. Entitled “Searching for the Beloved,” the program was built around themes of longing and spiritual journey with several settings of texts drawn from the Song of Solomon: Ich habe lust abzuscheiden, Ich suchte des nachts in meinem Bett, Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe, Liebster, meine Seele saget, Wie soll ich dich empfange, Ich bin eine Blume zu Saron and Jesu meine Freude.

For the San Francisco Early Music Society Christmas concerts, we revived, and modified, our production of Charpentier’s Pastorale sur la naissance de nostre Seigneur – the Nativity Pastorale – that had been on our second series in 1993. It was our first opportunity to revisit music that we had performed before – a thoroughly enjoyable experience for all. We even toyed with the idea of making the work a regular holiday tradition to compete with the innumerable Messiah performances each December, but of course there was so much wonderful Christmas music from the 17th century left to explore that we settled for bringing this wonderful program back to life every few years.

Nothing Magnificat had presented before, even the Parodie de Telemacque in 1996 could have prepared our audiences for the next program – another vaudeville parody from the Parisian fair theatres, this time with puppets.  La grandmére amoureuse (“The Lusty Grandma”) was written by Louis Fuzelier and his collaborator Dorneval, was a parody of Atys, the tragédie en musique by Lully and Quinault, which was revived at the Opéra in the 1725-26 season. As she had for Temacque, Susan Harvey created a score from Fuzelier’s libretto, using the popular vaudevilles of the day along with some of Lully’s music. Susan has recently prepared a score of La grandmére amoureuse for A-R Editions.

The use of puppets was actually historical – restrictions on the number of singers and actors allowed that were imposed on the fair theatres by the authorities became so severe that they were forced to use puppets rather than live actors. Oboist Sand Dalton had mentioned a puppet troupe that he had seen in Seattle and put us in touch with the Carter Family Marionettes, whose offbeat (and often off-color) humor suited the spirit of Fuzelier’s irreverent parody perfectly.

In the original, after his beloved Sangaride has been transformed into a stream, Atys begs the goddess Cybèle to change him into a tree by the stream, so that he can remain near his lover. In the parody Sangaride is changed into a chicken and Atys boldly asks to be made a rooster for reasons obvious to the audience but Cybèle instead changes him to a capon. But how to stage this? On the suggestion of a friend who was chef, we purchased two live chickens in Chinatown with the intention of returning them (ineffectively explained to the owner of the market) but by the time we got home, the chickens had been named and there was no chance of them returning to the market. The stage transformation was accomplished with a puff of smoke and was the final touch in a most uproarious performance. (The chickens retired from the stage after the performances and lived out their free-range lives at Alison Harris’ family farm near Sebastopol.)

Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle observed that  “both the specifics of “Atys” and the absurdities of opera in general came in for ribbing. The traditional “sommeil” scene, for instance, an operatic staple in which a gentle lullaby soothes a character into a peaceful sleep, was replaced here by a fight between good and bad dreams — the latter represented by fierce demons armed with Bobbittesque scissors and cleavers.”

Prior to the puppet opera Joshua Kosman also wrote a preview that captured some of the spirit of the first years of Magnificat: “Magnificat Obsession / Musicologists put together a Baroque puppet show.”

The season ended somewhat more seriously with a Vespers for the Feast of Annunciation with music by Maurizio Cazzati, transcribed especially for Magnificat’s production and most likely most of the works received their modern premieres in these performances. The five psalms and Magnificat were drawn from Cazzati’s Messa e Salmi a quattro voci of 1653 and the sonatas used as antiphon substitutes were selected from Legrenzi’s Sonate op. 2  from 1655. In these concerts, Magnificat used all male voices for the first time, a distinctive format that we have employed on several occasions since and will again this December for our performances of Schütz’s Christmas Story.

Over the course of the season, artistic directors Susan Harvey and Warren Stewart led ensembles that included Peter Becker, Louise Carslake, Stephen and Chris Carter, Bruce Chessé, San Dalton, Rob Diggins, John Dornenburg, Jolianne von Einem, Julie Jeffrey, Jennifer Ellis, Judith Nelson, Hanneke van Proosdij, Neal Rogers, Robby Stafford, Bill Wahman, Roy Wheldon, and Randy Wong.

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