Prolific and enterprising, Opera Feroce is an opera company in miniature whose distinctive creative output centers around the voices, interests and proclivities of the three singers who form its core. Our works are lively explorations of the Baroque ethos; we strive to make what can be perceived as an arcane and elitist art form entirely accessible and entertaining for audiences of all ages and backgrounds while remaining thoroughly grounded in serious music making and maintaining respect for historical performance practice.
As a collaborative ensemble, we passionately curate every aspect of our projects. We not only perform the music, but also act as our own impresarios, music researchers, librettists, costumers, edition makers, lighting designers, stage directors, harpsichord movers and administrators. The singers are Beth Anne Hatton (soprano), Hayden DeWitt (mezzo-soprano), and Alan Dornak (countertenor), and the principal instrumentalists are Vita Wallace (Baroque violin), Kelly Savage (harpsichord), Motomi Igarashi (viola da gamba), and Joseph Trent (traverso). When spoken text plays a part in the show, we are frequently joined by veteran actor and Tony Award-nominee Paul Hecht.
The inclusion in Amor & Psyche of a particularly haunting aria by Neapolitan composer Nicola Porpora provided the inspiration for our next project. Research into Porpora’s output yielded a treasure trove of highly virtuosic and challenging music written for the greatest singers of the High Baroque period. Arminio in Armenia, our second pastiche opera (and most ambitious work to date), is an homage to this obscure genius and an affectionate send-up of the opera seria genre. The plot is an Opera Feroce original and plays up many of the common tropes of Baroque opera with its emphasis on convoluted storylines and lavish spectacle, typically requiring more than a small chamber ensemble! In our “budget epic,” everyone does double-duty: each singer plays two roles, and the ensemble of five players, not to be outdone, somehow manages to suggest a full orchestra. Arminio entered our repertoire in June of 2012 and has since seen revivals in January and June of 2014 for which we received a grant from the Community Arts fund, the Greater New York Arts Development Fund of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), administered by Brooklyn Arts Council (BAC).
Other Opera Feroce projects include an assortment of semi-staged works which are a farrago of disparate music, namely: a salon, an oratorio, a 20th-century concert piece, and excerpts from an obscure bel canto opera. Incontro Barocco (2013), our version of an 18th-century salon, is intended to echo Adolph Menzel’s painting of Frederick the Great playing his flute for a roomful of elaborately garbed aristocrats. Singers and instrumentalists are costumed in high Baroque style (with egos and rivalries to match) and gleeful audience participation (and dining) are strongly encouraged. On a more serious note, Magdalene’s Dilemma (2013-2014), a short allegorical work, sets excerpts from Giovanni Bononcini’s sacred oratorios in the context of a Morality Play in which Mary Magdalene encounters both Sacred and Profane Love and is torn between following the path of the flesh and the path of the spirit. Looking beyond the Baroque era, we have ventured as far as the 20th Century (albeit with Renaissance texts) in our adaptation of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols (2013), originally composed for treble choir and harp, but performed by Opera Feroce’s three singers accompanied on harpsichord. In the spring of 2014, we ventured into the realm of performance art, joining forces with artist Sari Carel to perform Baroque vocal works with viola da gamba accompaniment as part of her audio scape installation Flight Song. Filling in the gap between the centuries, we are currently developing a concert version of I Fidanzati (ossia Il contestabile di Chester), a rare bel canto gem based on a story by Sir Walter Scott, with music by Giovanni Pacini.
Since the Fall of 2012, Opera Feroce has given frequent classroom guest lecture/demonstrations for Columbia University’s Music Humanities course. In 2013, at the invitation of the chair of the department, we were invited to create a pedagogical version of Amor & Psyche to enhance the students’ experience of the Baroque section of the curriculum. An information-rich slide show presentation runs simultaneously with a full live performance of Amor & Psyche (at 65 minutes, the perfect length for a class period) and transforms it into a living textbook of musical terms, Baroque performance practice, composer facts, cultural tidbits and rich illustrations culled from Baroque painting and sculpture.
Opera Feroce is a miniature Baroque opera company with a core group of six musicians (three singers and three instrumentalists) who passionately curate every aspect of their projects. We are a a collaborative ensemble of singers and instrumentalists who, in addition to performing the music, act as our own costume designers, edition makers, lighting designers, librettists and administrators.
Our works are lively explorations of the Baroque ethos – we make what can be perceived as an arcane and elitist art form entirely accessible and fun for audiences of all ages and backgrounds – while remaining grounded in serious music making. The members are: Hayden DeWitt (Mezzo Soprano), Alan Dornak (Countertenor), Beth Anne Hatton (Soprano), Vita Wallace (Baroque Violin), Kelly Savage (Harpsichord), Motomi Igarashi (Viola da gamba). Opera Feroce is dedicated to pushing the boundaries of the musical and dramatic forms of the Baroque era, and reimagining them in ways that delight and inform modern audiences.
Opera Feroce debuted in August 2010 with Amor & Psyche, a short, staged pasticcio opera set to the music of thirteen Baroque masters. Amor & Psyche has since become the staple of our repertoire, receiving enthusiastic responses from audiences and critics alike for its beautiful singing, strong music-making, and sheer fun. It also set the tone for what makes us unique: joy in embodying the Baroque spirit through a very personal, playful, and quirky dramaturgical lens. Amor & Psyche has had 14 performances; beginning at our former home base, Christ Church Cobble Hill, and at such other venues as the Abingdon Theatre (Manhattan) and The Falcon jazz club (Marlboro, NY). Since fall 2012 Opera Feroce has been a close collaborator with Columbia University’s Music Humanities course, giving frequent classroom lecture demonstrations and creating a pedagogical version of Amor & Psyche. Branching out beyond Amor & Psyche, we have fashioned three other projects. The recreation of an 18th-Century salon was the impetus for our 2013 Incontro Barocco, performed in full costume, High Baroque style and gleeful audience participation. An interest in the sacred form led to our creating Magdalene’s Dilemma, an allegorical piece about Mary Magdalene with music from oratorios by Bononcini, which we will juxtapose with Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols for our Christmas concerts. Our homage to Nicola Porpora, Arminio in Armenia, is our most ambitious work to date. The music, written for the greatest singers of the day, is highly virtuosic. Arminio takes us in the direction of opera seria, traditionally lavish, extravagant spectacles, requiring more than six people! Everyone does double-duty: each singer plays two roles, and the instrumentalists, not to be outdone, manage to suggest a full orchestra in their playing. Opera Feroce has enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration with Vertical Player Repertoryin Brooklyn.