André Campra (1660-1774) is hardly familiar, even to lovers of Baroque music. But he should be. His music is elegant, jubilant, assured, sometimes poignant, sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. Surprisingly, it is also sublime. And the laments are heart-wrenching. Campra’s operas are not performed often because they require a considerable outlay, not only of singers and instrumentalists, but with a large cast of highly proficient dancers. His Le Carnaval de Venise, Boston Early Music Festival’s centerpiece opera for this season, will be at the Cutler Majestic Theater on Sunday, June 11, at 3:30 pm, and at 7 pm on Wednesday, June 14, and Friday, June 16, and Sunday, June 18th at 3:30pm (followed by a pub party at Jacob Wirth’s). Tickets can be ordered here.
BEMF’s singers in this production say the dancers are mind-boggling, the dancers are impressed with the orchestra, the orchestra with the singers—a round-robin of admiration. “I really don’t think we have ever done anything quite like it,” said a long-time member of the BEMF staff. “Le Carnaval de Venise features an entire town on the stage,” she reported, “a chaotic Italian town square. Exhilarating. “There is no adequate recording of the opera, so this production is a welcome antidote to the lack of proper exposure to Campra.
“Dance becomes a centerpiece of the form,” stated Stephen Stubbs, who along with Paul O’Dette, are co-directors of this production, as they have been for many previous BEMF festival operas. Sung in French, Carnaval has an opera-within-the-opera, sung in Italian! A good discussion of it is available here; click on “Opera Preview.”
As a board member of Boston Early Music Festival, my opinion may be considered prejudiced; it is, but it is justifiable. My spouse John and I attended almost every performance of the early music festival in Utrecht, the Netherlands, a year ago last late summer; many were excellent, but a few concert performances were not. I can attest that BEMF’s concerts are consistently of the highest quality. To wit, no member of BBC Radio is on the BEMF board, yet they have written of the festival, “Arguably the most important and influential Early Music event in the world.” No wonder it attracts people from over 20 countries.
BEMF’s Grammy-winning Musical Directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs and internationally acclaimed Stage Director Gilbert Blin lead the production that features a cast of 19 singers and the 27-member Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra led by Concertmaster Robert Mealy, both well known to the Early Music crowd, plus a troupe of 10 professional Baroque dancers led by Dance Director Melinda Sullivan. The choreography is by Caroline Copeland and lavish costumes are designed by Anna Watkins.
Jesse Blumberg is Leandre, Amanda Forsythe is Isabelle, Karina Gauvin is Lenore, and Douglas Williams is Rodolphe. Other singers are (alphabetically) Christian Immler, Virginia Warnken Kelsey, Olivier Laquerre, Mireille Lebel, José Lemos, Jason McStoots, Nathan Medley, Molly Netter, Erica Schuller, Aaron Sheehan, and Teresa Wakim.
Bettina A. Norton, emerita editor of the Intelligencer (and BEMF board member), is finishing a book on 18th-century Salem portrait artist, Benjamin Blyth. She has published widely in her field, American historical prints, and in later years, was editor and publisher of The Beacon Hill Chronicle.