Jubilate to Perform Handel, Scarlatti, and Monteverdi with Bay Choral Guild

November 5th, 2009 No comments

The Jubilate Orchestra, a project of Magnificat, will perfrom with Bay Choral Guild on November 20, 21, and 22 . The program features Handel’s marvelous setting of Psalm 109 Dixit Dominus, Alessandro Scarlatti’s Messa di Santa Cecilia, and Monteverdi’s setting of Psalm 112 Beatus vir.

Sanford Dole

Sanford Dole

Magnificat’s relationship with Bay Choral Guild is almost as old as Magnificat. The Jubilate Orchestra (then called the Magnificat Baroque Orchestra) first performed with Bay Choral Guild (then called Baroque Choral Guild) in March 1989, joining with the choir in J.S. Bach’s motet Jesu meine freude. Since then, Jubilate has collaborated with BCG almost every season, first under Robert Geary and more recently under music director Sanford Dole.

In addition to projects with BCG, Jubilate has performed with the Sanford Dole Ensemble with the choir of St. Gregory Nyssen Episcopal Church, which Sanford also directs. Active in the Bay Area as a conductor, singer and composer for his entire adult life, Sanford has performed with, and had his compositions performed by, many of the area’s leading ensembles. He was a member of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus for 23 seasons, and was that group’s Assistant Director from 1987-97. A founding member of the male vocal ensemble, Chanticleer, his arrangements have often been performed by the renown 12-man chorus as well as his commissioned work, I Am With You, set to a poem by Walt Whitman.

The Jubilate Orchestra recently celebrated 20 years of service to the San Francisco Bay Area. Originally called the Magnificat Baroque Orchestra, the Jubilate Orchetsra was formed in 1989 to provide period instrument ensembles to accompany Bay Area choirs and other arts organizations. In this capacity, Jubilate has performed over 200 times with dozens of professional and community choirs, churches and opera companies. Jubilate has played public concerts, church services, and and for a variety of private engagements. Under the general direction of Magnificat’s Artistic Director Warren Stewart since its inception, Jubilate has been managed since 2000 by violinist David Wilson.

The Flowers on Magnificat’s Cozzolani CDs

November 5th, 2009 No comments

Ronald Chase "Rose"

Ronald Chase "Rose"

In working on a design for Magnificat’s Cozzolani CDs, I wanted the two releases to be clearly related visually without simply reproducing a template. For assistance I turned to my dear friend Ronald Chase, a remarkable artist in a variety of media, an innovator in the use of slide and film projection in theater design, and a teacher who been  a tremendous inspiration to so many young artists in the Bay Area through his Art & Film program. I had admired his work on several visits to his SOMA studio since we met in the late 80s and he knew Magnificat well, so it seemed like a good fit.

After trying out several ideas with Ronald in his studio, I noticed several framed flowers on on his wall. At first I assumed that they were paintings and was surprised to find out that they were in fact photographs that had been manipulated with a thoroughly “historical” device – a “xerox” machine!

As Ronald explain’s:

The flower series was the last group of photographs I created with a xerox technique on heavy colored papers. I had begun working with xerox as early as 1977, and my photographic work with movement and the body entered several museum collections in the early 80’s, including the Metropolitan Museum, Rochester Museum and the Norfolk Museum. The works also became part of the Xerox corporation’s private collection.

I photographed and developed the photos with various layers of silk, which reacted in different ways with the early xerox machines, the harbinger of what is now the standard Photoshop programs in computers. The early machines could be manipulated in several ways to produce sepia prints on a variety of papers. My work from this period included male nudes, movement studies and the flower series.

To me the innovative use of “old fashioned” technology and the resulting images, which struck me as somehow antique and modern at the same time, seemed quite apt for the project. Cozzolani’s music, though well over three centuries old, invariably sounds fresh and unexpected. Ronald very graciously offered the photographs for the recordings and the remainder of the design came together very quickly. A rose was chosen for the first release Vespro della Beata Vergine and a tulip for the second, Messa Paschale. Each time I look at the CDs I am reminded of how often Ronald has touched my life.

Ronald Chase’s Website

More of Ronald’s Flowers can be seen here

Magnificat Included on Wikio's First Classical Music Blog Top 20

November 4th, 2009 No comments

Wikio LogoWe learned that Wikio.com, a website featuring a news search engine for media sites and blogs is creating a music sub-category for Classical Music blogs and that this blog has made the top 20 (specifically, and ominously, no. 13). A big thank you to all our readers and subscribers and congratulations to all those other bloggers on the list! I’ve visited all these blogs and can confirm that there is a lot of terrific writing on music being done in cyberspace. Bravi!

Here’s the top 20:

1 Clef Notes
2 Nico Muhly
3 The Arts Blog
4 Andrew Patner: The View from Here
5 PostClassic
6 Think denk
7 Sandow
8 Oboeinsight
9 Violinist.com
10 Amusicology
11 The Collaborative Piano Blog
12 2’23`
13 Magnificat
14 Adaptistration
15 Intermezzo
16 SLSO Blog
17 Entartete Musik
18 The Opera Tattler
19 Opera Today
20 Musical Perceptions

Ranking by Wikio

According to Wikio, the position of a blog in the ranking depends on the number and weight of the incoming links from other blogs. These links are dynamic, which means that they are backlinks or links found within articles. Only links found in the RSS feed are included. Blogrolls are not taken into account, and the weight of any given link increases according to how recently it was published, the intention being to provide a classification that is more representative of the current influence levels of the blogs therein. The weight of a link depends on the linking blog’s position in the Wikio ranking. With Wikio’s algorithm, the weight of a link from a blog that is more highly ranked is greater than that of a link from a blog that is less well ranked. Wikio’s rankings are updated on a monthly basis.

Chiara Margarita Cozzolani: Celestial Siren

October 29th, 2009 No comments

Listen to Cozzolani’s Music

The following biographical sketch of Chiara Margarita Cozzolani was adapted from notes provided by Prof. Robert Kendrick of the University of Chicago and a member of Magnificat’s Artistic Advisory Board. Kendrick’s exceptional scholarship on the music of Milan and convent music in Northern Italy has resulted in two books – Celestial Sirens and Sounds of Milan – that offer tremendous insight into a fascinating chapter of music history. Magnificat will perform Cozzolani’s Messa a 4, along with five of her motets on the weekend of December 4-6. The Mass is available on Magnificat’s recording Messa Paschale, released by Musica Omnia.

Cloistered NunChiara Margarita Cozzolani (1602-c.1677) was a sister at the musically famous convent of Santa Radegonda, located in the seventeenth century across the street from Milan Cathedral. Santa Radegonda was famous for its sisters’ music-making on such feast-days, as visitors from all over Europe crowded into the half of its church open to the public (the chiesa esteriore), where they could hear the voices of the nuns while the monastic singers remained invisible in their half of the church (chiesa interiore), separated by a three-quarters-high wall. For the celebration of Mass, which unlike the services of the Divine Office, requires the participation of a priest, the celebrant and any attending clergy would likewise have remained in the exterior church.

Like her sister, aunt, and nieces, Cozzolani took her vows at the house in 1620, while in her late teens. She had been born into a well-off family in Milan, and might have received her early musical training from members of the well-known Rognoni family, instrumental and vocal teachers in the city. She entered a foundation, however, whose nun musicians had already been praised for a generation, and whose population (around 100 sisters) provided a large pool of young women who could be trained as singers and instrumentalists.

Her four musical publications appeared between 1640 and 1650; later, she served as prioress and abbess at Santa Radegonda. She helped guide the house through more difficult times in the 1660’s, when it came under attack by the strict Archbishop Alfonso Litta, who was concerned to limit the nuns’ practice of music and other “irregular” contact with the outside world. She disappears from the convent’s membership lists between 1676 and 1678, and thus we may presume she died in her mid-seventies. Read more…

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 SFist.com 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…

Making the Music of the Past Part of the Future of Music

September 30th, 2009 No comments

Future of Music Policy Summit

Magnificat will be attending the Future of Music Policy Summit October 4-6 in Washington DC. The Summit promises to be a fascinating exploration of the ramifications of new technology and communications portals on the production, dissemination, and promotion of music.

The wide range of a range of speakers and panelists for the Summit include US Senator Al Franken, FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski and Daniel Ek, founder of the music service Spotify, as well as artists like Wayne Kramer of MC5, Mike Mills of R.E.M., Erin McKeown, and Brian Message of Radiohead’s management team. From the FoM website:

It’s been nearly a decade since the digital music genie burst out of its bottle, changing the game for virtually everyone in the music ecosystem. So what comes next? Future of Music Policy Summit 2009 will examine this question through practical, musician-focused workshops, keynotes from leading artists, managers and policymakers and inspired panel discussions with the sharpest minds in the music/technology space.

As Magnificat has jumped head first into the deep end of cyberspace over the past few months, we have thought alot about how music lovers will access and interact with music in the future. One of the exciting aspects of the social media revolution has been the emergence of new avenues for communication between audience and performer. Through Twitter and other micro-blogging platforms “fans” have the possibility of following the preparation for a production and sharing the experience with others on a global scale. Photo-sharing sites like Flickr can provide the audience a glimpse “backstage” and give the performers a chance to share their audience’s perspective. And music-sharing portals like last.fm, blip.fm, and many others have radically changed the way listeners access music.

The new technology raises many complex issues and questions of course and we are looking forward to participating in the discussions and break out sessions that address some of these concerns. Magnificat is grateful to The Future of Music Coalition for helping to make Magnificat’s participation in this event possible. The Summit program can be viewed here. The sessions will be webcast here. Magnificat (@MagBaroque) will be live tweeting during the event – #fmc09 – so see you in Twitterspace!

To Draw from a Thousand Hearts a Thousand Sighs

September 29th, 2009 No comments

In the late Spring of 1608, a tragedy brought together the worlds of comedy and opera in Mantua for a magical performance. The singer of the first great “aria” – Arianna’s famous lament – was best known at the time in the commedia roles of Florinda, Columbina, Isabella or those of the female zanni, Franceschina or Smeraldina.

Callot17croppedThe connection between the nascent Italian theater of the 16th Century, commonly referred to as “commedia dell’ arte”, and the development of opera at the end of that century has been well established by musical scholars. Nino Pirrotta, in a memorable Musical Quarterly article from 1955, observed:

If I may be permitted to make a comparison, I would choose, even though it is old and much abused, that of two branches growing from a common trunk-two branches not quite opposite and divergent, but near each other in their origin, then sometimes separated, sometimes brought nearer by the imponderable factors of air, of light, of the juices running through them and nourishing them.

We tend to think of commedia as rowdy, bawdy, low-brow entertainment and that certainly was a popular and enduring aspect of the commedia. So it is somewhat surprising to learn that in the 16th and 17th century the commedia, whether performed by actors or puppeteers, was equally beloved by the nobility and the lower classes – at least as respected as any professional artist at the time, though that wasn’t all that much.

The Medici, like the delle Rovere in Modena and especially the Gonzagas in Mantua, sponsored several troupes of comici, and their performances were an essential element of any grand occasion and especially during the Carnival season. The troupes were itinerant and would take up residence in different cities in Italy, and eventually in France and Spain, with the various ruling families vying for their services.

Read more…

Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero and the Culture of Women

September 24th, 2009 No comments

(This is the third of a three part essay on Francesca Caccini and La Liberzione di Ruggiero, which Magnificat will perform on the weekend of October 16-18. The earlier posts were: “About Francesca” and the second “What is La Liberazione di Ruggiero about?“.)

One could hear these scenes as representing the truth of women’s experience, and of woman-to-woman exchanges; moreover, one could hear them as purging the stage not of effeminacy but of an idea of femininity constructed by male fantasy.

caravaggio-lute-player-c-1600-detailLa liberazione di Ruggiero fits into the Tuscan court’s long-term pattern of representing powerful women. Its setting at Villa Imperiale, its nearly all-female cast, and its plot focus on the contest between two women over the sexual and political destiny of a young man all invited its first audience to imagine they were being given a glimpse of the gynecentric, feminizing world they feared. It invited them to confront and resolve their anxieties about local women’s sexual and political power in an entertaining way, by inviting them to suspend temporarily the boundary separating representation and reality, in the very space most associated with that power. It invited them, too, to a resolution in which they could imagine themselves liberated from effeminacy (or from unreasonable gynephobia) through the agency of an unnaturally powerful but benevolent female, the sorceress Melissa.

The show is quintessentially Baroque–full of doublings; scenes that mirror each other formally; scenes that entangle listening spectators in momentarily perplexing forms so as simultaneously to give pleasure and provoke surprise (but that go by so fast we cannot quite think about them); and scenes that look and sound like parodies of contemporary chamber or theatrical performances. Shows within shows within shows, and reminiscent of the very kinds of entertainments Caccini and her troupe performed all the time at the women’s court, these scenes are all performed for Ruggiero, and they are all aimed at controlling his behavior (whether toward entrapment on Alcina’s island or liberation from it).

Moreover, the show’s scene rhythm is disquietingly asymmetrical. A good 2/3 of the La liberazione, including much of the post-liberation material, takes place in a single setting, Alcina’s island, where the concatenation of shows within shows within shows easily seduces any spectator to complacency. Once Alcina’s rage (figured as verbal and musical excess) sets her world on fire, the scene changes rapidly, first to a dry, landlocked space whence first the women and then the men imprisoned in the bodies of plants emerged to dance, and then to a piazza whence the entire audience was exhorted to move, with the cast, to a courtyard for the shows’ final number, a ballet for 24 horses and riders, led by the triumphant Melissa who circles the field in a centaur-drawn cart.

The overall experience of the show for its audience, then, is of a prolonged, if entertaining stasis, concocted of shows within the show that suddenly unfurls toward uncontained, rapid change that eventually engulfs everyone present. Brilliantly (given the trope of liberation), it is a show that evades closure–even in its published score, as much a product of the court’s propaganda campaign as the show itself, which lacks music for the final dance numbers. Whatever might be understood to go on emotionally in the stage area never quite receives closure–at least not there. Read more…

What is Francesca Caccini's La Liberazione di Ruggiero About?

September 20th, 2009 No comments

(This is the second of a three part essay on Francesca Caccini and La Liberzione di Ruggiero, which Magnificat will perform October 16-18. The first part, a biographical sketch of Francesca, “About Francesca“, was posted here earlier.)

Villa Poggio Imperiale in the 17th Century

Villa Poggio Imperiale in the 17th Century

On February 3, 1625, sometime in daylight, 160 gentildonne and their husbands, and an unknown number of foreign guests rode in carriages out the southeastern gate of Florence, and half a mile up a tree-lined avenue to a villa atop the nearest hill that had very recently been renovated as the personal palace of Tuscany’s regent, Archduchess Maria Maddalena d’Austria. Leaving their carriages in a grassy courtyard guarded by two squadrons of armed cavalry, the Archduchess’ guests were welcomed into the palace by a military commander, and led to bench seats in a temporary theatre built in the villa’s loggia, to hear a new commedia in musica based on a well-known plot (two sorceresses struggling over the sexual and military future of a hapless young man). The commedia was to be followed, seamlessly, by two balletti danced by members of the court, by a ballet for horses and riders in the paved courtyard, and by a reception at which the gentildonne were served by the men who rode in the final horse ballet (while their husbands watched from above). It was the first performance of Francesca Caccini’s La liberazione di Ruggiero.

So what could La Liberazione possibly have seemed to be about in 1625? First, a bit about the plot, since the story on which it’s based is not nearly as well known now as it was then.

The show opens with a prologue sung by Neptune (a figure for Medici power) and a Polish river, The Vistola, meant to praise the guest of honor in 1625, Maria Maddalena’s visiting nephew, Wladyslaw, the crown prince of Poland. Immediately afterward, the “good witch” Melissa sails up on a dolphin’s back to explain that she has come to rescue Ruggiero from the “bad witch” Alcina’s sexual spells, restoring him both to his military duty on behalf of Christian armies and to his dynastic sexual duty as the fiancée of the woman warrior Bradamante. At Melissa’s exit, Ruggiero arrives with Alcina and her retinue of singing and dancing minions. The lovers exchange perilously mis-communicated vows, and then Alcina leaves to manage government affairs while her retinue lulls Ruggiero to sleep. Dressed as his aged African teacher Atlante, Melissa returns, awakening Ruggiero with an exhortation to return to the battle for Libya. Previous victims of Alcina’s power, turned into plants by her mind-numbing spells, beg the pair to liberate them, too. After promising to return for them, Melissa leads Ruggiero away.

When Alcina and her retinue return to find him gone, a female messenger explains that Melissa has broken Alcina’s spell. Alcina confronts Ruggiero in a long scene mixed of lamentation and ire, to no avail. Enraged at her loss of power, she calls on monsters for aid. The stage is engulfed in fire, as the now monstrous Alcina rides offstage on a dragon’s back, after which creatures who had been trapped in the bodies of the island’s plants emerge to dance. One such creature pleads with Melissa to liberate the men who are plants as well as the women. They dance, and then everyone–the players and the audience–adjourn to the courtyard to watch the horse ballet, over which the triumphant Melissa presides from a centaur-drawn chariot.

My sense is that like the other comedies on which Francesca had worked La liberazione was meant to be both entertaining and serious–to give the audience the impression they were glimpsing into the ‘real’ entertainment life of the women’s court, and at the same time to engage a particular set of anxieties about that court’s relationship to public power during the regency of the 1620s.

Archduchess Maria Maddalena

Arch Duchess Maria Maddalena

When Grand Duke Cosimo II died in late February, 1621, the intermittent de facto regency of his mother Christine de Lorraine was replaced by a de jure regency she was to share with his widow, Archduchess Maria Maddalena d’Austria. Christine had quietly ruled Tuscany since late in 1606, first during her husband Grand Duke Ferdinando I’s final illness and then during her son’s long, losing struggle with what seems to have been several forms of tuberculosis. According to all diplomatic accounts, Christine had been Tuscany’s absolute ruler in this period, yet the same accounts report that she had shared decision-making with her son when he was up to it, and that she had systematically arranged for her daughter-in-law to be trained for what seemed like the inevitable regency of the 1620s. (One possible interpretation of La liberazione’s plot about the struggle of two women over a man, then, would be to imagine Ruggiero as the ailing Cosimo, his wife and his mother as the sorceress antagonists: but all diplomatic accounts also agree that the three worked well together.) Read more…

"Hope Dies Hard in the Artist’s Breast" – Toni Parisi and the Sicilian Puppet Tradition

September 18th, 2009 No comments
Knights of the Opera dei Pupi

Knights of the Opera dei Pupi

Recently while researching the Sicilian Opera dei Pupi tradition, I came across a pair of century old articles in the New York Times archives that tell a touching and compelling story of the impact of emerging technology on established artistic traditions. The first article, “Moving Pictures Oust the Puppets” from December 12, 1909 announces that the Marionette Theater of Antonio (Toni) Parisi has been “forced at last to give way to the march of time”. The subtitle tells the story: “Signor Parisi will follow progress by turning his place into a picture show.”

From the article:

These are the last few lingering days of the Italian marionette theatre in Eleventh Street. Signor Toni Parisi is to shut up shop, stow away the heroes, Kings, knights, giants, Turks, the ladies in distress which have bobbed on his wires for more than twenty years and will run a moving-picture show instead. The reason is simple: The Sicilians in New York have become just enough Americanized to desert the little theatre where the old Italian romances were acted out by puppets. What are the classic heroes of long ago beside the latest prizefight! Signor Parisi doesn’t like moving pictures himself, but a man has to live!

The story goes on to tell how Toni, like his father and grandfather before him, had devoted his life to animating the legends of the Carolingian knights and how, at the height of its popularity, the theater at 258 Elizabeth Street was “the most splendid in New York”. Thanks to the remarkable Shorpy photo archive I found the photo below of Elizabeth Street taken a few years after the Parisi Family moved their theater to Eleventh Street. (The space is now occupied by a designer handbag shop called Token.)

250-268 Elizabeth Street New York

250-268 Elizabeth Street New York

Parisi knew the stories from Orlando Furioso by heart, having spent five years as an apprentice puppeteer in his father’s theatre in Palermo before joining in the great emigration to the New World, first to Boston, then to East Harlem and finally to the Bowery. According to a legend probably as reliable as the tales of Orlando, Toni Parisi’s great-grandfather learned to make puppets from a half-witted prisoner in a jail in Messina, and the Parisi clan had lived with and by marionettes thereafter.

To support his family, Antonio (Toni) Parisi worked as a plumber and mechanic, devoting all his profits into his beloved puppets, numbering over 300, a severe strain on the Parisi’s budget. According to a 1908 NY Times article, there was hope that The Drama Committee of the People’s Institute would help the Parisi theater to survive through promotional advertising to school children, though the outcome of the Committee’s actions is unclear from the article. Apparently it was insufficient in generating the income necessary to meet the theater’s weekly costs of $12.

While there had been several marionette theaters in the lower East Side in the last decades of the 19th century, the Parisi family’s was the only one remaining in 1909. After moving up to 11th Street, the Parisi’s had begun attracting more non-Italian audiences, especially children, drawn no doubt by the sign that Toni’s teenage son Nunzio had painted over the door advertising “Grand Romance of Orlando – Come! The Pope, the Moor, the Dragon’s Cave.” But what had become of his traditional Sicilian audience? As the 1909 article recounts “[o]ne night Signor Parisi watched, and saw crowds going into another place, with electric lights and a phonograph. The moving picture had invaded the Italian quarter. And so the seven volumes of old Italian romances, the hundreds of puppets had all been taken to the attic of the Parisi’s tenement.

Read more…