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

The Carter Family Marionettes and the Opera dei Pupi of Sicily

September 9th, 2009 4 comments

“Marionettes have a long tradition of being able to bridge worlds and classes”

The Carter Family Marionettes

The Carter Family Marionettes

The Carter Family Marionettes are especially known for their mastery and preservation of the traditional Sicilian marionette theater known as Opera dei Pupi, which employs large-scale puppets manipulated with iron rods. This traditional form of puppetry flourished in the 19th century but the roots of the Opera dei Pupi stretch back to Middle Ages and earlier.

The original repertoire of Opera dei Pupi was based on the 11th-century Chanson de Roland, which recounted the legends of Emperor Charlemagne and his army of Christian knights and their battles with the invading Saracens. These legends passed through many literary re-elaborations during subsequent centuries, notably Ariosto’s Orlando furioso and Tasso’s Gerusalemme libera, served as the basis for Francesca Caccini’s La Liberazione di Ruggiero, which the Carters will be performing with Magnificat next month. In the 19th century, these tales of knights crossing swords in battle, saving damsels, and escaping from enchanted islands were assembled in popular versions that were sold in the streets in the hundreds of installments of the Paladini di Francia, a cycle that made Orlando, Rinaldo, and their fellow knights errant beloved heroes of Sicilian peasant culture for generations.

Ruggiero, in full armor after his "liberation"

Ruggiero, in full armor after his "liberation"

The Sicilian puppet is distinguished by the use of two metal rods, one running through the head and the other linked to the marionette’s right hand, which enable the puppets to be controlled with precise rhythmic gestures. The rod marionette actually pre-dates the string marionette in Europe but most traditions have moved to use of strings – only Sicily, Belgium and Czech Republic maintain rod-marionette traditions. At the height of Opera dei Pupi’s popularity at the turn of the last century, Sicily boasted as many as 25 puppet theaters, along with two or three peripatetic troupes. The two main Sicilian puppet schools that emerged in the 19th century in Palermo and Catania differed principally in the size and shape of the puppets, the operating techniques and the variety of colorful stage backdrops. Pupi were also found on the mainland, especially around Naples, but none of these troupes continue to perform. Read more…

A Librettist’s Choices: Saracinelli and La Liberazione di Ruggiero

September 7th, 2009 No comments
Archduchess Maria Magdalena

Archduchess Maria Magdalena

To say that La Liberazione di Ruggiero is a “setting” of Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando furioso is not entirely accurate. Rather it is a “reworking”, a “re-telling”, in which the librettist Ferdinando Saracinelli, a prominent figure and superintendent of performances for the Medici Court, was engaged in an ongoing tradition. The choices Saracinelli made in his libretto not surprisingly reflect the political agenda of his patroness, the Archduchess Maria Magdalena as well the concerns of the Florentine aristocracy in 1625.

In her survey of women at the Medici Court at the beginning of the 17th Century (Echoes of Women’s Voices: Music, Art, and Female Patronage in Early Modern Florence, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), Kelly Harness points out that Saracinelli’s libretto draws as much from Tasso’s Gerusalemme liberata as from Ariosto. His effort was another installment in the multi-generational life of a good yarn. Grazio Braccioli, the librettist for Vivaldi’s Orlando furioso, the unknown librettist of Handel’s Alcina, and many others carried on this process of re-telling in subsequent generations. More recently Italo Calvino has re-told these stories, for example, in The Non-Existent Knight.

The choice of Ruggiero’s tale and Saracinelli’s poetic decisions in the libretto were influenced by political consideration of the Medici Court in the 1620s. The elaborate festivities of which La Liberazione was a part were staged in honor of the visit  to Tuscany of Wladyslaw Vasa, Crown Prince of Poland. The prologue praises, with some deferential exaggeration,  the Prince’s heroism in defeating the Ottoman army in the Balkans (though his “victory” was in fact more of a stalemate) and his heroism versus Muscovy (also indecisive, at least by 1625). Maria Magdalena (a Hapsburg) desired that Poland defend Catholicism and enter into the conflict that we now refer to as the Thirty Years War and in general to stop being so tolerant toward the Protestants in his own land. There were also personal concerns, as Harness describes:

“Unsurprising in light of the archduchess’s plan to arrange a marriage between her daughter and Wladislaw, ensuring dynastic continuity through an appropriate marital alliance emerges as one of the central themes in La Liberazione. And once again Ariosto’s beneficent sorceress Melissa is crucial to the plot. In its principal source, Orlando furioso (cantos 7 and 8), Melissa – disguised as the old sorcerer Atlante and aided by a magic ring – must free Ruggiero from Alcina’s enchantment so that he might return to Bradamante and found the Este dynasty.”

Establishing the noble lineage of the Este dynasty, central to Ariosto and Boiardo before him in pleasing their Ferrarese patrons, was of less importance to Saracinelli of course and it is Melissa/Atlante’s call to battle that is emphasized. The magic ring is missing from Saracinelli’s libretto, rather it is the commanding presence of Melissa (transformed into Ruggiero’s protector Atlante) and her scolding call to military duty that “liberates” Ruggiero from his enchantment. Suzanne Cusick persuasively argues that Melissa – and specifically her relationship to Ruggiero – “can be read as a model of how a woman such as Maria Magdalena might effectively rule in a monarchical and patriarchal world.”

Read more…

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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When An Opera Is Not An Opera

August 24th, 2009 No comments

To the extent that Francesca Caccini is known at all to music lovers today it is as the first woman to compose an opera. Imagine the disappointment of learning that the opera for which she is famous, La Liberzaione di Ruggiero, was in fact not an opera at all!

On a certain level, it’s just a matter of how you define your terms, and La Liberzaione di Ruggiero certainly meets the most generic definition in The New Grove: “a musical dramatic work in which the actors sing all or some of the parts”.  That being said, the composer’s own designation and the circumstances and purposes of its composition support Suzanne Cusick‘s flat assertion that “La Liberazione is clearly not an opera”. She goes on to explain:

“It is, as its sources’ title pages attest a “balletto composto in musica” – an entirely sung, plotted entertainment meant to end in dancing that, in keeping with Florentine preference under the late Cosimo II, featured named dame and gentiluomini of the court whose performances deliberately dissolved the barrier between representation and reality.”

Balletto a Cavallo following La Liberazione di Ruggiero, Florence 1625

Balletto a Cavallo following La Liberazione di Ruggiero, Florence 1625

La Liberazione, then, was an extended prologue to further festivities, which in addition to the dancing of members of the court, included a horse ballet, all to celebrate the visit of Crown Prince Wladislaw Vasa of Poland, who had come to Florence for Carnival. Kelly Harness notes that the librettist Ferdinando Saracinelli “expanded the initial dialogue interchange that typically preceded the balletto a cavallo [horse ballet] proper into a potentially free-standing work, whose length approaches that of the earliest favole per musica. La Liberazione consists of 773 line; by contrast, in Le Fonti d’Ardenna [performed during Carnival in Florence in 1623] 230 lines precede the combat scene, while the total number of lines equals 357. L’Euridice by Ottavio Rinuccini numbers 790 lines.” Read more…

Balancing Spectacle and Intimacy: Urban Opera, Domus, and Otherness

August 24th, 2009 1 comment

Over the past weekend, the Jubilate Orchestra, a project of Magnificat, served as the “pit orchestra” for Urban Opera’s production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. The performances took place in a sculpture garden between two office buildings by Mission Bay. The San Francisco Weekly noted that Bay Area audiences have the choice of a plethora of opera experiences and welcomed Urban Opera’s concept into the mix while acknowledging the climatic complications that the City by the Bay poses.

I was struck by the similarities in the company’s intention of “telling the beautiful, yet often improbable, stories of the classic operas in a compelling way for a modern audience” by setting these “tales of passion, betrayal, love and loss in unexpected locations in the City with minimal sets and emerging, talented singers who aren’t afraid to take risks” and the adventures of the intrepid and talented chamber music ensemble Domus in the early 80s.

The Dome

The Dome

Indeed, Urban Opera’s rejoinder “this is not your grandparents’ opera” seems like an echo of the Domus ethos, though Domus was perhaps more specifically interested in invigorating the interaction of performers and audience than with revolutionizing the performance itself. The Domus experience was eloquently chronicled in the inspired journals of pianist Susan Tomes, which were published a few years ago as part of Tomes’ Beyond the Notes. (Full disclosure: I had the privilege of playing a very minor role in one Domus tour – and a spectacularly ill-starred and exhilarating tour it was! – pp. 50ff.)

The Domus musicians felt that the formal protocol and elitism associated with the traditional concert hall created a barrier that kept many people – especially young people – from experiencing classical music. Their solution was to perform in a portable concert hall – a geodesic dome – that could be set up virtually anywhere, including places where classical musicians had not previously ventured. (For example – Wormwood Scrubs Green!) Visually striking, the dome itself attracted audiences and the compelling performances kept them there – and perhaps made them more likely to seek out classical music in more conventional venues. But it was the interaction of musicians and listeners that motivated the experiment (and sustained the musicians through all the stress of self-production). Read more…

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.

“Zazzerino” – Jacopo Peri and the Birth of Opera

August 20th, 2009 No comments
Jacopo Peri as Orfeo

Jacopo Peri as Arion

August 20 is the birthday of Jacopo Peri, who was closely involved in the development of what we now call “opera”, staged drama set entirely to music. He was known affectionately as “Zazzerino” (from zazzera, mop of hair) in recognition of his striking, and long, blond hair – a sort of 16th century Robert Plant.

Though born in Rome in 1561, Peri is most closely associated with Florence, where he served along with Giulio and Francesca Caccini, Jacopo Corsi, Marco da Gagliano and many other in the extraordinary musical establishment of the Medici court. He has also been associated with the Florentine Camerata of Giovanni de’ Bardi and throughout his career was a leading voice (in all senses) for the “new music” that the Camerata was promoted.

The style promoted by the Camerata was perceived as a re-discovery of the music of Classical Greece, though there is little to suggest that the recitar cantando, the “heightened speech” that eventually became the operatic recitative, bore any resemblance to the music of the ancients. This in no way diminished the power of a musical style that sought to directly communicate human passion and emotion in a narrative context. Read more…

"To wonderfullye move, stir, pearce, and enflame the hearers myndes"

August 3rd, 2009 No comments

In Bruce Haynes’ thought-provoking, persuasive, and thoroughly entertaining book “The End of Early Music“, he devotes a chapter to a comparison of Baroque Expression and Romantic Expression. Appropriately, Haynes begins his discussion with a quote from “La Musica” speaking in the prologue of Monteverdi’s Orfeo:

“With sweet accents I can make every restless heart peaceful and inflame the coolest minds, now with anger, now with love.”

In reading Haynes’ revealing discussion of Rhetoric, Declamation, and “Affekt”, as understood before the Enlightenment, I am struck anew that the goal of the musician in the performance of Baroque music is to engender emotions in the audience – not merely to “express” those emotions. The composer provides a blueprint, a menu, and the musicians and the audience share the experience. The performer of this music is  tasked not merely with transmitting nothing more and nothing less than what the artist-composer wrote on the page, as Toscanni would say, “Com’ è scritto”. Rather as C.P.E. Bach observed,

“[M]usicians cannot move others unless they themselves are moved; it is essential that musicians be able to put themselves in each Affection they wish to rouse in their audience, for it is in showing their own emotion that they awaken sympathy.”

At least for pre-Romantic music.

The notion of the performer as a transparent “vessel” through which the composer’s work is channeled to the audience strikes me as a thoroughly 19th century concept. Surely, the circumstances in which we perform are heavily influenced by 19th century aesthetics (the very notion of “aesthetics” as we normally think of it begins with Kant) and the audiences we perform for are, of course, neither 17th nor 19th century audiences, which creates a lot of other interesting issues, but with Baroque music at least, the goal would not seem to be to offer some idealized “work” as conceived by a composer for an audience to reflect on, admire, and contemplate – that’s what you do with a Beethoven symphony or a Strauss tone poem.

I am persuaded that in pre-Romantic music (what Haynes calls “Rhetorical” music – in contrast to “Romantic” and “Modern” styles), the obligation of the musician is to experience an emotion and, through skill and technique, cause the audience to experience the emotion as well. Of course, with the music that Magnificat performs, there’s a 3 or 4 century gap between our audiences and the original audiences and while some basic emotions transcend any specific era, the range and flavor of emotions of 21st century audiences and performers alike are necessarily radically different from those of the 17th. What strikes me as critical is intention and commitment. The moment in the narrative, the instrumentation of the aria, the flat six before the cadence and the ornamentation implied by that cadence – these are all road signs indicating an emotion or “affekt”, which the performer interprets and then “feels”. The success of the performance is in some way measured by the degree to which that affekt is communicated and felt by the audience participating in the collective experience.

The Romantic philosophers who were creating an “aesthetics of music” viewed this sort of approach as manipulative or artificial and rejected it. Instead, they held up the canonic masterpieces of the genius/composers – the “Classics” – as somehow outside of time – and the performers role was to transmit them – without getting in the way.  Earlier in his book, Haynes quotes E.T.A. Hoffman from 1810:

“The true artist lives only in that work which he has comprehended and now performs as the master intended it to be performed. He is above putting his own personality forward in any way, and all his endeavours are directed towards a single end, to call to life all the enchanting pictures and shapes the composer has sealed into his work with magic power.”

Haynes also quotes the New Grove dictionary article on expression, in which Roger Scruton, who encapsulate the Romantic view:

“…to describe a piece of music as expressive of melancholy is to give a reason for listening to it; to describe it as arousing or evoking melancholy is to give a reason for avoiding it.” (emphases mine)

By the 20th century, performers become necessary, but interchangeable, servants or staff (these days conveniently replaced by CD players) that presented the ineffable works of the composer for the contemplation of the listener. I’m not saying that audiences don’t have an emotional experience in a “Modern” performance – of course they do – but I do question how often the musicians and audiences are sharing the same emotional experience. We have all known performances in which that did happen and, on some level perhaps, those are the only ones that matter.

The Title of this article, quoted from Thomas More, is also drawn from Haynes’ book, which I recommend highly to all interested in music.

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…

Music of the Seventeenth Century: To Speak Through Singing

July 1st, 2009 No comments

Claudio Monteverdi wrote in a letter in the 1630s that the goal of music was “to speak through singing”. In spending much of my life researching, promoting, and performing the “new music” of the 17th century with Magnificat, I have observed that this music is indeed characterized by an underlying, urgent impulse to “speak” the human experience through music. It is precisely the intensity of that impulse that continues to draw me and the musicians of Magnificat to music of this fascinating, unsettled, and dynamic period. [1]

The 17th century was a period of pervasive upheaval, a century when the fundamental perceptions of the world in all realms of life were shaken. It was a time when alchemy and empirical science coexisted, a time when the exploration of new worlds and the investigation of the sky challenged traditional conceptions of the place of the earth in the universe, a time of religious persecution and political conflict. And like tumultuous periods throughout history it was also a time that produced some of our most treasured art, architecture, poetry, and music. I would argue that beyond a mere curiosity about the origins of our current musical universe, the music of the this period has a special resonance for us today because we also are living through a ‘paradigm shift’ comparable to the crises of the 17th century, with all the attendant upheaval characteristic of such times.

Early in the century, Monteverdi wrote that he intended to publish a treatise describing the ‘secunda pratica’ or ‘second practice,’ the new compositional attitude that he and his colleagues had adopted. Drawing on Plato, he said that his book would be laid out in three parts and would begin with a chapter on oration. How appropriate that a manifesto of the new music of the 17th century should give such prominence to the rhetorical art, given the dominant motivation that the communication of words and the emotions they express provided composers of the period. Through the experiments that led to the creation of the genres of opera, oratorio, sonata, and cantata, composers sought to integrate drama and music into new compositional approaches that reflected the immediacy and engagement so essential to the art of oratory.

Perhaps because the fruits of these experiments remain fundamental to musical perception three centuries later, they take on a special significance for us. The basic elements of what we now call “common practice” tonality, the dominance of the keyboard as the basis of musical conception, the emergence of institutions like orchestras and opera companies and the appearance of professional virtuoso performers – the very notion that the purpose of music was to move the passions and communicate emotions – all took shape in the 17th century. 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.

The 17th Century Meets the 21st: Magnificat Now on Facebook and Twitter

June 1st, 2009 No comments

Magnificat has launched a Facebook Page and you are all encouraged to become “fans” (including all who already are!) The page currently has a discography, notice of upcoming events, and lots of other information about Magnificat. Soon we will have the capability to post mp3s and videos. Our page can be visited by clicking here.

We are also on Twitter, so those of you who dwell in Twitterspace please follow us @MagnificatMusic. We are working to develop a discussion of Baroque music and culture in this new medium as a way of increasing interest in Magnificat and early music in general.

Georg Muffat’s Birthday and David Wilson’s Translation and Commentary

June 1st, 2009 No comments

Georg Muffat was born on June 1 in 1653. A special day for Jubilate personnel manager, Magnificat violinist, Muffat expert and all around great guy David Wilson, who, in 2001, published a translation of texts from Florilegium Primum, Florilegium Secundum, and Auserlesene Instrumentalmusik together with very enlightening commentary on performance practice issues.

Born in Savoy, Muffat studied with Lully in Paris in the 1660s and then studied law at Ingolstadt. According to the biographical blurb at Goldberg Magazine, he later traveled to Vienna but could not obtain an official appointment and subsequently appeared in Prague (1677), ultimately finding a position in Salzburg in the service of Archbishop Max Gandolf, a post he held for over ten years. Read more…

Suzanne Cusick’s “Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court” to be Published Next Month

May 30th, 2009 No comments

Magnificat will open our 2009-2010 season with Francesca Caccini’s opera “The Liberation of Ruggiero”. I am looking forward to reading New York University Professor Suzanne Cusick’s new book about this remarkable composer. The book is available for order on the University of Chicago Press website. The synopsis provided by the publisher follows: Read more…

Magnificat Looking Forward to the Return of the Puppets

May 28th, 2009 No comments

On the weekend of October 16-18, 2009, Magnificat will join forces with The Carter Family Marionettes in a production first mounted in Seattle in 2007. Below is a review of that production from the Seattle Post Intelligencer. We look forward to working with the Stephen and Chris Carter and their troupe of wooden friends!

Marionettes Make Fine Work of Italian Opera

by Phillipa Kiraly (originally posted on April 22, 2007 at the Seattle Post Intelligencer)

Kudos to the Northwest Puppet Center for doing it yet again: opera in miniature with all the trimmings. On Friday night, “The Liberation of Ruggiero from the Island of Alcina,” by Francesca Caccini, opened at the center with five singers, four musicians, more than 30 puppets and a wave machine.

“Ruggiero” was one of the earliest operas, written in 1625; the first written by a woman — Caccini was a younger contemporary of composer Claudio Monteverdi; and the first to be presented outside Italy — in Poland in 1628.

Like many Baroque operas, it was originally presented full size on a lavish scale with complicated stage machinery and effects, and the story is a legend complete with sorcery, battles, gods, animals and talking trees.

Northwest Puppet Center’s production includes a dragon that blasts smoke, dancing fish and seahorses, a sea creature spewing forth the character Pulcinella, a goddess flying in on a griffin and a sheep that, well, I’m not giving away what it does.

Sung in Italian with supertitles, with the spoken words in English, the opera is largely recitative, but with duets and trios as well.

Read the Entire Article at The Seattle Post Intelligencer