It’s not terribly often that 17th-century operas receive their US premieres in 21st-century Somerville, but such will be the case when Helios Early Opera revives Francesco Cavalli’s Artemesia in a utilitarian staging at a re-purposed drill hall. The company has gotten good notices in these pages for its imaginative presentations at unusual venues. Artemeisa will be mounted at the Somerville Armory, 191 Highland Avenue, on January 18th and 19th at 7:30. Ticketing information can be had from the Helios website here. Our interview with co-music director Zoe Weiss follows.
BMInt: Neglected works often deserve their status. Why are you reviving Artemesia? Did Cavalli have any hits that have remained in the repertoire?
Zoe Weiss: Cavalli was the most popular and respected opera composer in Europe in the 17th-century. He was so revered that he was summoned to France to put on productions there. His opera, Giasone, is considered the most popular opera of its century based on how many times it was revived (since operas ran only as long as they sold tickets). Nowadays, when people think of Cavalli, they only think of La Calisto. With twenty-seven extant operas we think Cavalli’s other works also deserve to be explored.
Does Artemisia’s story matter and have you updated it?
There’s murder, lamentation, vengeance, mistaken identify—all the usual conventions—but now set in Hollywood…but maybe you should read stage director Aria Umezawa’s 500-word synopsis here.
The Somerville Armory is not a traditional opera venue. Please tell us about it and tell us about your production values.
The Armory is a wonderful space. It’s both large but also feels intimate. Our last short opera (Telemann’s Pimpinone) was done in a nightclub where the audience ate and drank during the performance. Here at the Armory, patrons can purchase wine and beer during the intermissions. Venetian opera in particular was social and convivial and we think that’s an element of the tradition that has been lost.
Who’s singing and who’s playing? Is your one-on-a-part string section sufficient for the space? Are you amplifying at all? Will you be turning off the noisy air handling?
We’ve got a stellar cast and a wonderful orchestra. The continuo band alone includes two harpsichords, three theorbos, a harp, a dulcian, and a lirone. A one-on-a-part string section is both historical and completely adequate for the space. We’re not using any amplification but we’re definitely turning off the fans and refrigerators during the performance!
What about tickets, transportation and parking?
Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets (through a link on our website, see above) or at the door for cash or check only. We have V.I.P. seats for $50, general admission for $30, and students/seniors for $20. The Armory is accessible by several MBTA buses and a 15 minute walk from Porter Square. They also have a large parking lot that will be available.