Author Archive

Magnificat Celebrates A Decade of Cozzolani

October 24th, 2009 No comments

Listen to Cozzolani’s Music

On the weekend of December 4-6, Magnificat will celebrate the 10th anniversary of our first performances of the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani with a program featuring her Messa a 4. My first encounter with the exceptional music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani took place in the most unlikely of places – Manilla. I traveled to the Philippines in 1997 with Judith Nelson to play in the Bamboo Organ Festival and for one of the chamber music concerts, Judy brought out the marvelous duet O quam bonus es. I was immediately struck by the kaleidoscopic range of emotion and musical style and set about finding a good program for Magnificat.

That opportunity came when the San Francisco Early Music Society presented Magnificat as their Christmas concerts in 1999. From the first rehearsal of music for Christmas Vespers, we knew that O quam bonus es was not an anomaly – every work, whether a grand double choir polyphony or an intimate motet for one or two voices – was a multi-faceted gem, bursting with imagination and passion.

Cozzolani Messa Paschale CD

Cozzolani Messa Paschale (Musica Omnia released 2002)

Magnificat was fortunate to gain the attention of Musica Omnia, an adventurous new recording label based in Boston, that was interested in producing Cozzolani’s complete works, a project that began in earnest with our first recording sessions in August 2000. At these sessions, we decided to first release a collection of her vespers music and then her setting of the mass ordinary in the context of liturgical reconstructions. We completed the recordings for the vespers music in January and August of 2001. In between we presented a vespers for the Feast of Purification on our series in February 2001.The CD Vespro della Beata Vergine was released in December 2001.

Magnificat at the 2002 Berkeley Early Music Festival

Magnificat at the 2002 Berkeley Early Music Festival

Then it was on to the mass. Some of the music that ended up on the CD Messa Paschale had already been recorded in 2000, but the mass itself was not recorded until January 2002, just before performances on our own series in February 2002. Later that Spring we performed a vespers for Annunciation on the Carmel Bach Festival concert series – a memorable concert in the beautiful Carmel mission. In June 2002, we were featured on the Berkeley Early Music Festival in a vespers for the Feast of Corpus Christi, which allowed us to perform many of the Christological motets that didn’t fit in the liturgy for the Marian feasts we had done since the first concerts in 1999. The Berkeley Festival concert coincided with the release of the CD Messa Paschale.

In November 2002, Magnificat presented a conference on Women and Music in 17th Century Italy in celebration of 400th anniversary of Cozzolani’s birth. In addition to a performance of Cozzolani’s vespers at Grace Cathedral, Magnificat presented a concert of music by a variety of women composers from the century at Trinity Episcopal Church in San Francisco. There was also a session at which papers were presented by four scholars that have focused on convents and music by women from the period – Coleen Reardon, Gabriella Zarri, Craig Monson, and Robert Kendrick.

Magnificat next performed Cozzolani in New York on the Music Before 1800 series in April 2003, another vespers for the Feast of Annunciation. Two years past before we performed Cozzolani, and again it was on the Music Before 1800 series, but this time it was the Mass. For these performances, we sang the mass one-on-a-part, rather than the double choir arrangement I had prepared for the recording and the 2002 concerts on our series. Our December performances will also be one-on-a-part. Read more…

Another Review: Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’ Isola Alcina

October 23rd, 2009 No comments

The following thoughtful review was posted at the blog Exotic and Irrational Entertainment by “Pessimissimo”. I especially appreciate the recognition of the excellent program notes by Suzanne Cusick, who contributed tremendously to my understanding of Francesca and her “show”. The reviewer’s comments about Pulcinella are well taken, I would only point out that, the commedia figures were not only associated with Sicilian theatre, but with Italian theater in general and the performance of commedia troupes at any event like the visit of a foreign dignitary, especially during Carnival was taken for granted (and in fact mandatory for the companies enjoying the protection of the Medici). That being said, they certainly were not part of the original performance in 1625, but then neither were puppets of any sort. Thanks for such a well considered review!

This past week in the Bay Area the Baroque vocal group Magnificat (in collaboration with the Carter Family Marionettes) performed Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero dall’ Isola d’Alcina (The Liberation of Ruggiero from Alcina’s Island, 1625) as a puppet opera. (Images from the website of Magnificat.)

Francesca Caccini was a remarkable figure. According to scholar Suzanne Cusick‘s informative program notes, Francesca was the daughter of the famous singer and composer Giulio Caccini (of “Amarilli, mia bella” fame). Francesca sang at age 13 in the first opera to have survived complete, Jacopo Peri and Ottavio Rinuccini’s L’Euridice (1600), to which her father also contributed music. Francesca not only had a beautiful singing voice by contemporary accounts, but was a multi-instrumentalist and later a teacher and composer as well. She wrote hundreds of songs and music for at least 17 entertainments for the Medici Court in Florence. Unfortunately most of her songs are lost, and the only one of her operas that survives in performable form is La Liberazione di Ruggiero. Read more…

SF Chronicle Review and Photos of Magnificat’s Ruggiero

October 21st, 2009 No comments

Joshua Kosman of the San Francisco Chronicle attended last Saturday’s sold out performance in Berkeley and has posted a review available online here.

We have posted more photos on our Flickr Photostream. Everyone perfromed beautifully and we had standing ovations for each performance. Thanks to everyone – performers, audience, staff and board – for making last weekend a tremendous success!

Back Stage on Saturday Night

Back Stage on Saturday Night

The Stage on Saturday in BErkeley

The Stage on Saturday in Berkeley

Sold Out in Berkeley

Sold Out in Berkeley

SFist: Puppet Opera: La Liberazione di Ruggiero

October 17th, 2009 3 comments

Cedric Westphal posted this preview of Magnificat’s performance of La Liberazione di Ruggiero on yesterday.

Alcina and one of her minions

Alcina and one of her minions

La Liberazione di Ruggiero is arguably the first opera written by a woman, and features strong feminist themes and a challenge to patriarchal society, but honestly, they had us at Puppet Opera. And not just any kind of puppets: three foot tall, forty pound puppets from Sicily, getting into sword fights and romance. It is actually quite common that your opera singers act stiff and wooden, and these puppets are no exception.

Written in 1625 by a woman, Francesca Caccini, for a woman, Maria Magdalena de Medici, who wanted to impress the visiting prince of Poland to her court of Tuscany, it is based on Ariosto’s “Orlando Furioso“. Magnificat Baroque will perform the score, under the baton of artistic director (and blogger) Warren Stewart, while the Carter Family Marionettes will do the visuals. We caught up with Warren Stewart and Stephen Carter during a break in their rehearsals. It became quite obvious that they were an excellent match to collaborate, as both of them share a charming volubility, and combine an obvious passion with an erudite scholarship for some rather arcane artistic forms: 17th century music and puppetry.

“There certainly was a tradition of performing opera with puppets,” Warren said, “going back to the beginning of opera. Unlike previous productions we have done with the Carters, this opera was never done with puppets. This opera was performed only once for a specific occasion in 1625, and not performed again until the 20th century.” It is not a US premiere, however. “We have done plenty of modern premiere of 17th century music,” Warren acknowledged, “but in this case it has been done. This opera received a lot of attention since it is the first opera by a woman. So there has been musicological work on it and several productions in the last couple decades.

Actually, apart from Kaija Saariaho and the upcoming commission of the SF Opera from Jennifer Higdon we could not come up with another opera written by a female composer. “We should advertise this as the only opera by a woman,” joked Warren.

Read the Entire Article

More Photos of the Puppet Cast of Liberazione di Ruggiero

October 14th, 2009 No comments

Lots more photos of the wooden cast of La Liberazione di Ruggiero can be viewed on our Flicker Photostream. Here’s a few:

Ruggiero prepared for battle

Ruggiero prepared for battle

The Hippogriff

The Hippogriff



Assembling the Puppet Stage for La Liberazione di Ruggiero

October 13th, 2009 No comments

The Carter Family arrived and assembled their puppet stage for today’s rehearsals of La Liberazione di Ruggiero. More photos can viewed at our Flicker page.

The Skeleton

The Skeleton

Almost Done

Almost Done

Stephen Carter Backstage

Stephen Carter Backstage

Photos from Monday’s Ruggiero Rehearsals

October 13th, 2009 No comments

We’ve created a Flicker Photostream for this week’s rehearsals of Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero. Setting up the puppet stage now – photos soon!

Here are a few:

Single Manual Italian meets 5 speed Subaru

Single Manual Italian meets 5 speed Subaru

Hugh meets Cassie's understudy Molly

Hugh meets Cassie's understudy Molly



The Cast of La Liberazione di Ruggiero

October 10th, 2009 2 comments

Introducing the cast – both human and wooden – for Magnificat’s upcoming production of La Liberazione di Ruggiero. Presenting an opera with puppets allows the freedom for one singer to take on several roles. La Liberazione di Ruggiero features three primary roles: the galant, if temporarily mis-guided, knight Ruggiero and two sorceresses: the evil Alcina and and the benevolent Melissa. In addition there are shepherds, sirens, damigelle, and enchanted trees. (Full bios of all the musicians (and puppeteers!) in the production can be viewed here.)

Catherine Webster - Alcina

Catherine Webster - Alcina

Catherine Webster has been singing with Magnificat for ten years now. Since her unforgettable debut as a last minute addition in our first performance of the remarkable music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani in 1999, Catherine has become an audience favorite. In this production she will sing the role of the evil sorceress Alcina, who has seduced Ruggiero, like so many knights before him, with her charm and beauty and the sensual delights of her palace. Though her beauty turns out to be an illusion, the pathos of her lament/complaint after Ruggiero abandons her, the high point of the opera, both thematically and musically is genuine.

Jennifer Paulino - Sirena

Jennifer Paulino - Sirena

Fresh from her triumphant performances with Les Grâces on the SFEMS series last month, Jennifer Paulino will sing the role of the Siren sent to entertain Ruggiero in Alcina’s pleasure garden, as well as several other roles. Jennifer first sang with Magnificat in our 2007 performances of Stradella’s La Susanna and has returned frequently since then. In contrast to the three principal characters, Ruggiero, Alcina, and Melissa, who sing entirely in syllabic recitative, the other roles, like the Siren, sing in strophic, metered poetry, often in triple meter.

José Lemos - Melissa

José Lemos - Melissa

It is a pleasure to welcome back José Lemos, who sang the role of Nino in Magnificat’s production of Stradella’s Il Tespolo tutore in 2007. This time José will sing the role of the good sorceress Melissa, who is actually the agent of Ruggiero’s “liberation” from the enchantment of Alcina’s island. In order to demonstrate to  Ruggiero of the error of his ways and convince him to return to his knightly duties, Melissa transforms herself into the appearance of Atlante (Atlas in Orlando furioso), who had been a mentor/father figure to both herself and Ruggiero. José will also sing the role of Alcina’s servant Oreste, who delivers the news that Ruggiero has forsaken Alcina.

Scott Whitaker - Ruggiero

Scott Whitaker - Ruggiero

Tenor Scott Whitaker will be reviving the role of Ruggiero, which he sang in the Carter Family’s production in 2007. Scott has sung many times with Magnificat over the past decade, most recently in Schütz’ Resurrection Story in 2005. In the particular episode of Orlando furioso captured in Caccini’s opera, Ruggiero is initially depicted as emasculated and weak, having succumbed to the powers of Alcina, affording the opportunity for a love duet based on the conceit of the mirror, drawn from Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata. After his “liberation” though, he dons his armour and returns to his heroic ways, conquering dragons and various demons in pitched battle.

Daniel Hutchings - Shepherd

Daniel Hutchings - Shepherd

A familiar face (and voice) to Magnificat audiences, Tenor Daniel Hutchings has appeared with Magnificat for many years. In this production, he will sing a variety of roles, most notably a lovesick shepherd who entertains Ruggiero in Alcina’s garden with his aria about love lost and then re-affirmed. The pastoral topic of the amorous adventures of shepherd and shepherdesses was well established by the 1620s, owing in no small part to the remarkable popularity of Guarino’s Il Pastor Fido, along with Orlando furioso the most popular literature in Italy at the time.

Hugh Davies - Neptune

Hugh Davies - Neptune

Baritone Hugh Davies first sang with Magnificat in our 1994 prodcution of Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo. Among his roles in that production was a “damned soul in Heaven” for which he wore a flaming red body suit. (Hugh is thankful that Facebook and cell phone cameras didn’t exist in 1994!) In this production, Hugh will sing the role of Neptune, who appears in the Prologue to welcome the guest of honor – the Crown Prince of Poland, who was visiting Florence for Carnival. Neptune urges the mighty Vistola river (sung by Dan Hutchings), which flows through Warsaw, to join him in the welcome, and then sets the stage for the drama to follow.

Palo Alto Online Preview: Marionettes Meet 17th-Century Feminism

October 10th, 2009 No comments

Palo Alto Online posted this preview of Magnificat’s upcoming performances. The original can be viewed here.

Marionettes meet 17th-century feminism
The Magnificat ensemble explores the lost art of puppet opera

by Be’eri Moalem

“Marionettes are able to do fantastic things,” Carter said. “They can fly through the air. They can burst into flames. You can chop a character’s head off. We built a wave machine.”

Lovers of classical music all know masters such as Bach, Mozart and Beethoven; their music is performed year after year.

Some may even know 17th-century names such as Monteverdi and Purcell. But what about composers such as Peri, Allegri, Melani or Caccini? Cazzati, Rovetta and Rigatti?

When examining the music of the 17th century, Stanford-trained musicologist Warren Stewart was amazed at its beauty, and how relatively rarely it is performed. So he co-founded Magnificat, a San Francisco early-music ensemble that promotes and performs 17th-century music.

Magnificat’s performers try to give authentic Baroque-style concerts, using special instruments such as valve-less horns and working within an entirely different style of musical organization and style (clefs and key signatures did not function as they do today).

“The 17th century was a big experiment,” Stewart said, referring to the arts as well as science. “Suddenly Earth was not the center of the universe but a tiny speck in space, and suddenly exaggerated human emotions were depicted in painting and in this new art form, opera.”

Next week, Magnificat brings to Palo Alto an opera that is particularly pioneering — Stewart says it’s the first opera composed by a woman. Francesca Caccini’s “La Liberazione di Ruggiero” is a tale of two powerful sorceresses who battle over the political fate of a young prince. Over the course of the story, monsters are conjured up and one of the women magically transforms into a man and then back into a woman.

According to Stewart, the political subtext and symbolism were not lost on Archduchess Maria Magdalena, who commissioned the opera as the prelude to an equestrian ballet. She was struggling to hold on to power in the early 1620s after her husband died and his heir was only 10 years old; feminism and gender power struggles are age-old themes.

Meanwhile, Stewart said, the feminist angle is magnified by the fact that the opera was composed by arguably one of the first women in modern history to make a full career out of music. The main breadwinner in her family, Caccini was a respected lutenist, harpsichordist, singer, writer and composer. Read more…

Puppets and Gender Bending in the Baroque Style: San Francisco Classical Voice Previews Magnificat

October 5th, 2009 No comments

Lisa Hirsch of Iron Tongue of Midnight wrote the following preview of Magnificat’s upcoming production of Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero for San Francisco Classical Voice.

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.”

Read the Entire Preview

The Future of Music Policy Summit: "It's the future, so get used to it"

October 5th, 2009 No comments

This line from the 2002 performances of Radiohead’s  song “Go to Sleep” (sadly omitted from the studio version) kept coming back to me at the Future of Music Policy Summit this week. I’m updating some of my thoughts from the first day of the concert. As I noted in that post, the summit was packed with ideas and energy and I was impressed with the spirit of cooperation and community that pervaded the discussions, which I have also sensed in the cyberworld of social media. There is a feeling of open ended possibilities that I found especially refreshing.

Throughout the summit, I continued imagining how the promotion and networking strategies, the new technologies and media platforms, and the radically altered market structure for music will affect artists, like Magnificat, that work with historical music – how to make the music of the past part of the future of music.

Mike Mills sings "Ohio" with Bonerama

Mike Mills sings "Ohio" with Bonerama

At the remarkable performance by Bonerama, Nicole Atkins, Erin McKeown, Wayne Kraemer, Mike Mills and others on Monday night, someone on stage observed the importance of touching base with your roots – whether it is traditional New Orleans Delta Blues, Cuban Son, Appalachian folk songs, whatever. Knowing where you’ve been and how it touches you today, can provide a basis for navifating the future. I would argue that this is one of the best arguments for the continued renewal of “historical” music. While I’ve written before that all music is in some sense “historical”, here I mean specifically Classical music – the only genre offered by ReverbNation, BlackPlanet, Virb, and any number of other muic portals, for artists involved in the performance of Medieval, Renaissance, Baroque, Classical, Romantic, etc. forms of “art music”.

Focusing on the music Magnificat loves, promotes and performs, I would venture that most of what serves as the basis for music of today – not just the institutions of orchestras, opera, chamber music, virtuoso vocal and instrumental music, but also the theoretical basis for “common practice” tonality, vertically conceived harmony, and melody/accompaniment compositional structure – was first formulated and solidified in the 17th Century. The humanistically motivated shift in orientation toward the expression of human emotion ignited a century of experimentation and exploration that still speaks with a freshness and wonder centuries later.

The trick is to find the place for this “roots” music in the new and exciting avenues that are emerging, that were the focus of attention at the summit.

Needless to say, the focus of the discussions was “popular” music, but it is clear that the genre fragmentation characteristic of “the music business” in the past generation allows “Baroque Music” or even “17th Century Music” to be just another niche market along with “speed metal” or “skronk”. It’s really a question of scale – Stradella may never be a popular as Jay-Z, but there is a “fan base”. The recurring mantra of the sessions was that musicians need to identify the listeners who love their music, their “fans”, and build relationships with them. The global nature of communications now makes it possible to build those relationships on a scale unimaginable just a few years ago. Read more…

Two Tracks Featuring Catherine Webster Released (Audio)

September 14th, 2009 No comments
Catherine Webster, soprano

Catherine Webster, soprano

The coming season marks the 10th anniversary of Catherine Webster’s first appearances with Magnificat. Her debut in our performances of the music of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani in December 1999 was especially memorable and she has been a fixture in Magnificat productions ever since. In October she will sing the role of Alcina in Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero. The Alcina role features the extraordinary “complaint”, in which the evil but alluring sorceress, upon the news that Ruggiero has forsaken her to return to Bradamante and to his soldierly duties, attempts to change his mind first through pleading, then seduction, and finally fury. Caccini masterfully captures this emotional range with an exhilirating panoply of expressive musical devices. We are all looking forward to hearing Catherine sing one of the first great sorprano roles in the history of opera.

Magnificat/Si dolce è'l tormentoMagnificat has released two tracks from live performances that feature Catherine. The first is Monteverdi’s solo soprano setting of Carlo Milanuzzi’s Si dolce e’l tormento, which conveys a range of emotion that belies its simple strophic form. This exquisite madrigal was not originally in the plans for Magnificat’s November 2004 program “A Due Voci Pari”, but during the rehearsals for those concerts, David Tayler suggested that we add it. After one run-through in the dress rehearsal it was clear that this was destined to become one of the most unforgettable Magnificat performances ever. The live recording is from the performance at St. Gregory Nyssen in San Francisco, November 14, 2004.

Download Si dolce è’l tormento

Isabella Leonarda Lætatus sumThe second track we are releasing is Isabella Leonarda’s setting of the psalm Lætatus sum for solo soprano, violins and continuo, drawn from the composer’s last collection of liturgical texts, the Salmi Concertati a 4 voci con strumenti, op. 19, published in Bologna in 1698. These works represent her most modern works, stylistically and harmonically, and the collection appears as a counterpart to her setting of the mass ordinary for the same vocal and instrumental forces published two years earlier. This live and unedited recording is from a Magnificat performance at St. Gregory Nyssen in San Francisco on February 2, 2003. Rob Diggins and Jolianne von Einem play violin, John Dornenburg, violone, David Tayler, theorbo, and Hanneke van Proosdij, organ.

Download Isabella Leonarda’s Lætatus sum

These and other Magnificat recordings can also be heard at and

Magnificat’s 2009-2010 Season Brochure

September 11th, 2009 No comments

Magnificat’s 2009-2010 Season Brochure will be hitting snail mailboxes next week, but we wanted to give you a sneak peek. It can be downloaded by clicking here (PDF – 17MB). Magnificat’s creative director Nika Korniyenko designed the brochure and the beautiful poster below. Nika has been designing Magnificat’s brochures and programs since 2005 and she also designed Magnificat’s new website and the “CD” covers for all the recent releases on Magnificat’s music page.

Nika has been involved in a variety of creative projects ranging from theatre and film production to classical illustration and printmaking. A native of St. Petersburg, Russia, she practiced classical art techniques at the City of St. Petersburg Art School and studied art history at the Hermitage State Museum. She later graduated from the California College of Arts and Crafts. In addition to her published illustrations, Nika’s artwork has been seen in group exhibitions in Venice, Osaka, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Washington DC. You can see some of Nika’s work at her website

Magnificat 09-10 Season Poster by Nika Korniyenko

Magnificat 09-10 Season Poster by Nika Korniyenko

Carter Family Marionettes at Festa Italiana in Portland

August 31st, 2009 No comments

The Carter Family Marionettes, who will be coming to the Bay Area for Magnificat’s production of Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero in October, performed at the Festa Italiana in Portland, Oregon over the weekend. As Dmitri Carter noted on Facebook:

Just returned from performing at Festa Italiana in Portland. We had a brave crowd on Friday that sat in the rain! We rushed puppets away as soon as their scene was done. A friend lent an umbrella to put over the sound system to avoid electrocution. Luckily, it was dry for the other shows.

Fortunately the performances in October will be inside! Benjamin Brink of The Oregonian posted a gallery of backstage photographs that can be viewed here, but we wanted to share a couple with you.

Chris Carter, left, and Dmitri Carter, her son, quickly change puppets during a performance at Festa Italiana. (Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian)

Chris Carter, left, and Dmitri Carter, her son, quickly change puppets during a performance at Festa Italiana. (Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian)

The Kinght and the Mermaid at Festa Italiana.  Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian

The Kinght and the Mermaid at Festa Italiana. (Benjamin Brink/The Oregonian)

From the Magnificat Archives: Isabella Leonarda Sonata for Violin & Continuo (Audio)

August 27th, 2009 2 comments

Rob DigginsIsabella Leonarda
Sonata duodecima (1693)

Rob Diggins, violin
Warren Stewart, violoncello
David Tayler, theorbo
Hanneke van Proosdij, organ

live, unedited performance
February 2, 2003
St. Gregory Nyssen Church
San Francisco CA

Download this Track

In 1724, the eminent theorist and collector music Sébastian de Brossard wrote in praise of the works of Isabella Leonarda that “all of the works of this illustrious and incomparable composer are so beautiful, so gracious, so brilliant and at the same time so knowledgeable and so wise, that my great regret is in not having them all.”

Isabella’s instrumental works, which appeared in 1693, are apparently the earliest published sonatas by a woman.  The collection consists of eleven trio sonatas and one sonata for solo violin and continuo.  One of her most harmonically adventurous works, the Sonata duodecima is in seven parts, including two recitative like sections.

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Review of Suzanne Cusick’s Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court

August 22nd, 2009 No comments

CacciniCusickBookReba Wissner of Brandeis University has posted a thoughtful review of Suzanne Cusick’s recently published book, Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power (University of Chicago Press, July 2009.) I encourage you to read the full review at Music Book Reviews, but I wanted to quote a couple paragraphs here.

Francesca Caccini was one of the most prolific female composers and performers of the seventeenth century, and recently, musicologists and interdisciplinarians have generated an extensive body of literature on the role of women in early modern Europe, mainly in Italy. Suzanne G. Cusick’s study of the composer eloquently situates itself within that realm. This, Cusick’s first book, has been long awaited. A scholar known for her enlightening and engaging articles on subjects such as feminist perspectives on early music and the use of music as torture in terrorist containment camps, it is high time for a book by this talented scholar. Additionally, hers is the first extended and in-depth study of one of the most influential female Italian musicians of the Baroque. Cusick deliberately avoids the technical language that pervades most musicological scholarship while still conveying her ideas and analysis of Caccini, her role as a female in a predominantly male world, and her compositions. The author’s copious research brings to light a new side of Caccini that has been neglected far too long; she is portrayed not just as the daughter of famed composer Giulio Caccini, but as a composer, performer, and teacher in her own right, no longer studied in the shadow of her father. Cusick’s study illuminates the life of Francesca Caccini, placing her life within the context of family dynamics, societal norms, and economic implications.

Wissner concludes her review with the following summary:

Suzanne Cusick’s groundbreaking study represents an important addition to recent musicological scholarship on the lives of female composers, particularly those of the seventeenth century; a field that only recently has been burgeoning. This book will be of interest to readers interested in music history, cultural studies, and the role of women in early modern Italy. By examining the historical and cultural elements, the author brings new, exciting, invigorating, and much-needed in-depth analysis, and provides a more accurate portrayal of the composer and her works than has been seen before.

I have found this book to be extraordinarily thought provoking as I prepare for Magnificat’s production of La Liberazione di Ruggiero with the Carter Family Marionettes in October.

Jubilate Orchestra Joins SF Urban Opera in Purcell's Dido & Aeneas

August 22nd, 2009 No comments

DidoAeneas_11x17The Jubilate Orchestra is providing the orchestra for performances this weekend of Henry Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. The performances mark the launch of a new opera company in San Francisco called Urban Opera. Urban Opera is focused on “telling the beautiful, yet often improbable, stories of the classic operas in a compelling way for a modern audience.”

The cast features Kindra Scharich as Dido along with sopranos Kimarie Torre (Belinda), Milissa Carey (Sorceress), and Pamela Igelsrud (Second Woman); tenor Todd Wedge (Aeneas); and counter-tenors Cortez Mitchell (First Witch/Mercury) and Michael McNeil (Second Witch/Sailor). The orchestra is led by David Wilson, and includes Katherine Kyme, David Sego, Farley Pearce, John Dornenburg, and Phebe Craig.

Mark Rudio wrote about opening night in the San Francisco Cultural Events Examiner:

The last line in the program for Urban Opera’s Dido and Aeneas, is “If you like what you see, please make it a point to thank them [the performers].” Since I didn’t get a chance to do so at the performance’s conclusion, I’d like to publicly thank the entire cast, crew and the Jubilate Baroque Orchestra for putting on a damn fine show. It’s easy to be skeptical about the promise of a small company in a big opera town, but Urban Opera’s first time outing was more successful than it had any right to be.

From the article in th San Francisco Ambassador:

The first opera ever written in English, Dido and Aeneas features “A city that is destroyed by flames, sailors who come and go, and a tragic queen … [it’s going to be] very San Francisco.” Set against the Bay as a backdrop, Urban Opera is filling niche the City hasn’t had before now- opera geared toward an audience that feels equally at home at Black Rock City or the War Memorial. Three performances will be held beginning Friday night at The Urban Opera Art Space, located at 409 – 499 Illinois Street (@ 16th Street)in Mission Bay, San Francisco. All performances begin at 7:00 PM, and tickets are available here.
Urban Opera includes artists from San Francisco Lyric Opera, Chanticleer and Volti to bring the City something new: professional singers performing non-standard repertory in challenging new productions specific to the space and time in which they’re performed. The production is accompanied by The Jubilate Baroque Orchestra. Since the original music to the prologue has been lost, the production will begin with with a staged overture and spoken prologue, giving those of us who don’t completely remember the fourth book of Virgil’s Aeneid (and that’s most of us) the backstory before the action begins.
Directed by veteran Chip Grant, with costumes by Kue King, Urban Opera’s debut looks to be the most interesting event taking place over this busy weekend. Get yourself a ticket, or be doomed to lament missing it.

Tickets are available for performances tonight and tomorrow here.

The Jubilate Orchestra is a project of Magnificat, providing period instrument accompaniment and performance practice consultation to arts organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area. With a repertoire ranging from Gabrieli to Pärt, Jubilate has performed over 300 times in the past two decades.

A First Hand Account of Francesca Caccini’s Performances

July 22nd, 2009 No comments

“…this young girl began to apply her mind to counterpoint and passagi, in a short time mastering both, [and] created compositions such that they were highly esteemed, requested and prized by the leading me of the profession, and by great princes.”

While Francesca Caccini is most often identified primarily as “the daughter of Giulio Caccini” in modern literature, that is not how Cristoforo Bronzini began his biographical sketch of Francesca in his survey of noted women of Tuscany, Della dignità e nobilità delle donne, published serially between 1622 and 1632. Thanks to the extraordinary work of Suzanne Cusick, we have a rich and multi-faceted portrait of this most remarkable musician.

As Cusick has noted, Francesca was one of the first women to enjoy a fully professional career as a salaried musician, working for more than two decades for the granducato of Tuscany in Florence. I will be writing more about this book in subsequent posts about Cusick’s recent book, Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court, but here I wanted to share another excerpt from Bronzini’s account of Francesca found in Cusick’s book. Read more…

Magnificat’s Recordings Now Available for Download

June 26th, 2009 1 comment

In anticipation of the imminent launch of Magnificat’s new (and vastly improved website), we have made all our commercial recordings available for download – just click here.

In addition to our two CDs of music by Chiara Margarota Cozzolani, released on Musica Omnia, we also have the Carissimi EP Vanitas Vanitatem, that was available at our concerts during the 2004-2005 season and our 1996 recording of Cavalieri’s Rappresentatione di Anima e di Corpo, which has long been out of print.

We will have other live tracks available as streaming audio on the website, which is planned for launch on July 7.

New Book on Francesca Caccini Arrives

June 25th, 2009 No comments

I have just received my copy of Suzanne Cusick’s very impressive monograph “Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power“. Quite apart from it’s relevance to Magnificat’s production of Caccini’s opera La Liberazione di Ruggiero next Fall, the book promises to offer fascinating insights into the role of music in Italian society and the experience of a woman navigating the politics of a North Italian court.