+ Program Notes
Here is the transcript of a recent interview we never did with NPR.
NPR: Why “Candlemas?” OPERA FEROCE: Funny you should ask. For a while we toyed with calling this program “Groundhog Day” but thought it didn’t have quite the right ring, so we decided to go with the more mellifluous “Candlemas,” instead.
NPR: So, why “Candlemas?” OF: Like Groundhog Day, Candlemas, or The Feast of the Presentation, falls on February 2nd. Unlike Groundhog Day, it marks the fortieth day after the Birth of Christ when, according to Jewish law, Mary would have undergone a rite of purification and presented the infant Jesus in the temple. The famous Canticle of Simeon, the Nunc dimittis, is an eloquent Scriptural marker of this celebration which, for many, signals the end of Christmastide. In fact, superstition has it that, if you haven’t taken down your Christmas decorations by Twelfth Night, you must leave them up until Candlemas. Even though, technically, we missed the cut-off by a couple of days, we figure that this sanctions us to still be singing “A Ceremony of Carols” in February.
NPR: OK, that explains the Sacred, but your program calls itself “A Sacred and Profane Celebration of Mid-winter.” What about the Profane part? OF: You mean besides all the swearing during rehearsals?
NPR: hee hee OF: Well, ever the equal opportunists, we felt that, even though on the one hand, this is our belated Christmas concert, on the other, there is definitely enough Pagan energy afoot, this time of year, for the Profane to deserve equal billing. Let’s face it, if you were to superimpose the Christian calendar onto the ancient Roman one, you’d realize that that’s exactly what the early Christians did. The Romans loved their holidays and had nearly as many feast days as work days in a calendar cycle. Appropriating the already existing public feriae and assigning them to the main Christian feasts could well have been a tactical move to ease the pangs of conversion. Of course, two of the biggest occurred in December: Saturnalia, a carnival-esque celebration with banqueting and gift-giving leading up to the Winter Solstice, and the Dies Natalis Solis Invicti or Birthday of the Unconquerable Sun on December 25th. (Compare that to the Birthday of the Unconquerable Son celebrated by Christendom on the same day!)
NPR: Wow! Your answers sound just like a Wikipedia entry! OF: (insulted sniffing noises)
NPR: That is to say, it seems like you guys have really done your research! OF: Well you know, we are recent inductees into the very elite organization C.U.S.S. (Collegium Universalis Scholarae et Scheisterae), Inwood Chapter. Anyway, as I was saying, Candlemas also coincides with Imbolc, the halfway mark between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. And on February 1st, Irish Catholics observe St. Brigit’s Day, while various Pagan sects celebrate the feast of Brighid (the Gaelic goddess of the hearth and fecundity) which marks the beginning of Spring.
NPR: And what about Valentine’s Day? I mean, what’s love got to do, got to do with it? OF: The Romans celebrated their fertility rites from February 13th until 15th at Lupercalia, a drunken revel dedicated to Venus which makes modern-day Mardi Gras look like a Junior Prom. This one must have posed a real conundrum for the early Christians, but, luckily, somewhere in the Middle Ages, the day became associated with a 3rd-century Roman martyr named Valentine who had been executed by Emperor Claudius II on February 14th.
NPR: That seems appropriate. After all, who among us has not been a martyr on some Valentine’s Day or another? OF: Too true. Too true. And in honor of such a miserable holiday, we are debuting some new pieces from a blood-thirsty moral cantata by Alessandro Stradella entitled Otia si tollas, periere Cupidinis arcus (a proverb from Ovid which translates roughly to, “We got trouble right here in River City.”) It’s all about the gods devising terrible punishments for Cupid. If you read the text translations (or listen to his bass lines), you’ll probably agree that Stradella must have had some serious anger issues.
NPR: And what about Porpora? He also seems to be featured. OF: Yeah, we Feroces love our Porpora. Not only is his music fun to sing, but he also included trios in his operas, which not a lot of the baroque guys were doing. This probably has something to do with the difficulties, even then, of getting people together to rehearse. Hey, we never have enough rehearsal, but do we let that stop us? We just ply people with food and drink and figure that they’ll be more forgiving that way.
NPR: I notice you are also playing music at the intermission? Does that have anything to do with the eating and drinking you mentioned? Are there any specific instructions for the audience? OF: Imbibe, nosh and frolic! We are dedicated explorers of the baroque ethos, and to us that means eating during performances.
NPR: By the way, is that THE Mark Ettinger, formerly of the juggling troupe The Flying Karamazov Brothers, playing viola da gamba? OF: Indeed it is! Mark is a crazy-talented musician who, after mastering 17 instruments, stopped counting. With some mild coercion, he agreed to dig his gamba out of the back of the closet and join us for these concerts. We feel like he’s a little under-used so, next time, we plan to ask him to juggle a gamba and a cello, while playing the trombone.
NPR: And when did Kelly grow a beard? OF: You must mean Kelly Savage our harpsichordist. She may be sporting some new facial hair, but we wouldn’t know because she lives in California now. She does plan to come back from time to time, but life and Opera Feroce must continue, so we are extremely fortunate to be joined by Gabe Shuford, pianist, harpsichordist and jazz god. All the guy needs is a better instrument to play, but we’re working on it.
NPR: Speaking of which, did I hear that Opera Feroce is looking for a harpsichord? OF: Yes, specifically a small, light-weight, loud, cheap or free, high-quality single-manual Flemish or Italian instrument with two eights and a lute stop.
NPR: Anything else to add, as this interview limps to a close? OF: I’d like to say a brief word about the Giovanni Pacini selection at the end of the program. There was some concern that it might obliterate all of the other music on the concert, and it is loud, but it is also neat, especially given that the last live performance on record of any portion of this opera was in 1845! Here is a brief synopsis of I Fidanzatiprovided by Thea Cook, a historian of bel canto opera who approached us with the score after seeing a performance of our opera Arminio in Armenia and realizing that we would probably be intrepid enough to attempt to produce it (and we just might be…): The opera is based on Sir Walter Scott’s novel The Betrothed, and follows the ill-starred love of Evelina (Beth) and Damiano (Hayden), whose father Ugo de Lacy (Alan) was promised to Evelina by her dying father. When Ugo is ordered by King Richard to join the crusades, he leaves Evelina in Damiano’s care. The young lovers fight their passion, and though eventually they confess their feelings, they do not act upon them. Ugo discovers their feelings for one another upon his return, but after initially repudiating his son, at the last moment he places Evelina’s hand in Damiano’s, relinquishing his claim on her, and the opera ends in general rejoicing.
+ Musical Selections
- Duetto per flauto e violino, Wq 140 C.P.E. Bach (1714 -1788) andante
- A Hymn to the Virgin Benjamin Britten (1913 -1976)(Anonymous, 14th century)
- A Ceremony of Carols Britten
music at the intermission
Duet in G major for flute and violin, TWV 40:111 Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) (from Der getreuer Musikmeister)
- largo e misurato
- vivace e staccato
Opening trio from the operetta à 3 Alessandro Stradella (1639 -1682) La Circe “Bei ruscelli cristallini” (Algido, Zeffiro e l’Ombra di Circe)
3 Arias from the cantata morale Stradella Otia si tollas, periere Cupidinis Arcus
- “Febo son’ io...Sù Camene, al suono, al canto” (Apollo)
- “Ed io che farò...Nudo arcier che ti pregi di forza” (Mars)
- “Selve amiche...Cupido è la fiera” (Diana)
Duetto per flauto e violino, Wq 140 C.P.E. Bach allegro
Duet from the sacred cantata Nicola Porpora (1686 - 1768) Deos qui salvasti
- “Gaude o peccator, plaude o peccator” (Misericordia e Giustizia)
Trio from Act 3 of the opera Porpora Temistocle
- “Vo’ costante in faccia a morte” (Temistocle, Neocle ed Aspasia)
Trio Finale from Act 1 of the opera Giovanni Pacini (1796 -1867) Il Contestabile di Chester ossia I Fidanzati
- Ah, partir...Ver’ la terra del deserto” (Ugo, Evelina e Damiano)
- Beth Anne Hatton, soprano
- Hayden DeWitt, mezzo-soprano
- Alan Dornak, countertenor
- Gabriel Shuford, harpsichord
- Mark Ettinger, viola da gamba
- Joseph Trent, traverso
- Vita Wallace, violin
- Deborah Houston, reader