Handel’s Almira at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center June 21 – 23
George Frideric Handel’s first opera Almira is scheduled for its first modern-day historically conceived production, by Boston Early Music Festival at Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center, Gt. Barrington, MA. All performances will be sung in German with English supertitles. Members of the Almira directorial team will give a pre-opera talk 90 minutes prior to each performance and the orchestra will perform a fanfare 20 minutes before curtain.
Performances are Friday and Saturday, June 21 and 22 at 7pm, and Sunday, June 23 at 2:30pm; Tickets ($30 to $95) are available via the Mahaiwe Box Office at 413-528-0100 or mahaiwe.org.
About Handel’s Almira
Written when Handel was only 19, Almira tells a story of intrigue and romance in the court of the Queen of Castile, in a dazzling parade of entertainment and delight which the composer would often borrow from during his later career. One of the world’s leading Handel scholars, Professor Ellen T. Harris of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has said that BEMF is the “perfect and only” organization to take on Handel’s earliest operatic masterpiece, as it requires BEMF’s unique collection of artistic talents: the musical leadership, precision, and expertise of BEMF Artistic Directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs; the stimulating and informed stage direction and magnificent production designs of BEMF Stage Director in Residence Gilbert Blin; the highly skilled BEMF Baroque Dance Ensemble to bring to life Almira’s substantial dance sequences; the all-star BEMF Orchestra; and a wide range of superb voices.
Leading the BEMF Almira production will be: three-time Grammy-nominated Artistic Co-Directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs (USA); Stage Director and Set Designer Gilbert Blin (France); Costume Designer Anna Watkins (United Kingdom); Choreographers Caroline Copeland and Carlos Fittante (USA); and Lighting Designer Lenore Doxsee (USA). Past collaborations by members of this artistic team have earned unprecedented critical acclaim, with the 2011 BEMF opera Niobe, Regina di Tebe by Steffani heralded as “the opera production I’ve been waiting for” (The Boston Phoenix) and “breathtakingly beautiful and dramatically compelling” (City Journal), and the 2009 sold-out run of Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea declared “a magnificent, illuminating production” (The New York Times) and “theatrically vibrant and musically superb” (The Boston Globe).
Starring in the title role of Almira and making her Boston Early Music Festival début, will be soprano Ulrike Hofbauer. A native of Bavaria heralded for her “expressive passion” (Basellandschaftliche Zeitung), Hofbauer specializes in Baroque vocal and operatic repertoire; her busy performance career includes regular collaborations with ensembles such as Collegium Vocale Gent, L’Arpeggiata, La Chapelle Rhénane, L’Orfeo Barockorchester, and Cantus Cölln – among others – and under the direction of such esteemed artists as Andrew Parrott, Andrea Marcon, Gustav Leonhardt, Philippe Herreweghe and Christina Pluhar.
In addition to Ms. Hofbauer, BEMF has assembled another extraordinary and international cast totaling eight vocalists, including two beloved BEMF artists in back-by-popular demand performances: soprano Amanda Forsythe (USA) as the princess Edilia; and tenor Colin Balzer (Canada) as the mysterious orphan Fernando. Ms. Forsythe performed the title role in BEMF’s 2011 production of Steffani’s Niobe, Regina di Tebe, and was praised by the New York Times for using “her shapely soprano to superb effect.” Mr. Balzer was also most recently featured in Niobe, earning acclaim from Cleveland Classical for his “stellar” performance. Completing the cast will be: Christian Immler (Germany) as Consalvo; Zachary Wilder (USA) as Osman; Tyler Duncan (Canada) as Raymondo; Valerie Vinzant (USA) as Bellante; and Jason McStoots (USA) as Tabarco. Joining the cast, will be the internationally acclaimed 24-member Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, the eight-member BEMF Baroque Dance Ensemble, trained by BEMF Ballet Mistress Melinda Sullivan, and eight performers from the BEMF Young Artists Training Program, along with 30 backstage crew members. With a production budget of $1.2 million, Almira will be the most elaborate opera staged in the Berkshires this season.
In 1703, an 18-year-old George Frideric Handel set out for the cosmopolitan city of Hamburg to start his musical career in the orchestra at the city’s flourishing opera house. Towards the end of 1704, the director of the Hamburg Opera, composer Reinhard Keiser, tapped Handel for an opportunity to compose his own opera. The result, Almira, was a great success with Hamburg audiences, combining German, Italian, and French influences into a crowd-pleasing spectacle of dance, comedy, and drama. Even at this young age, Handel shows the genius that would make him a star in Italy and London. Numerous musical ideas and passages from Almira would find their way into Handel’s later works. The libretto by Friedrich Christian Feustking is itself based on the libretto by Giulio Pancieri for a Venice production in 1691. It tells the story of Almira, the newly crowned Queen of Castile, and her trials and follies in a quest for love. A cast of equally lovelorn characters joins her to navigate jealousies, duels, dungeons, and misunderstandings on their way to a joyously happy ending.
About the Boston Early Music Festival
In addition to the performances at the Mahaiwe, Handel’s Almira will be the Operatic Centerpiece of the 2013 Boston Early Music Festival, June 9–16, 2013. Described as “heaven…for early music fans” and “a concentrated celebration of everything from period-instrument recitals to Baroque opera” by The New York Times, the Boston Early Music Festival will also feature concert performances by the world’s leading soloists, chamber ensembles, and the Grammy-nominated BEMF Orchestra. Inspired by the Operatic Centerpiece, the theme for the 17th Festival will be Youth: Genius and Folly. The Festival’s Artistic Directors and distinguished artists will explore evolution and revolution in music that spans centuries. Alongside a full schedule of concerts and opera performances, will be dozens of Fringe Concerts presented by artists ranging from college collegiums to consummate professional ensembles; numerous informative Symposia and Masterclasses; and the world-famous Exhibition, North America’s largest early music trade show comprised of instrument makers, schools of music, publishers, societies of historical performance, and the BEMF CD Store. For more information, please see BEMF.org or call 617-661-1812.