Gotham Chamber Opera

Where opera gets intimate.

I remember when I first fell in love with French baroque music. I was learning keyboard pieces by Rameau as a freshman in high school, and I thought it among the most marvelous stuff I had ever heard. Years later, when serving on the staff of the festival in Aix-en-Provence, I marveled at the stage works of Rameau and his predecessor Lully, in sumptuous productions by William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants. More recently, when researching the French baroque operatic repertoire for Gotham Chamber Opera, I was reminded that nearly all of Rameau’s and Lully’s operas were written for the full forces of the French royal court; because they pulled out all the stops, as composers in our time do for commissions from the Metropolitan Opera, they were sadly beyond Gotham’s purview. Luckily, the American musicologist Desmond Hosford soon led me to Charpentier’s chamber operas as an alternative appropriate for Gotham-sized gestures.

In 1680, Marc-Antoine Charpentier returned to Paris following his studies with Carissimi in Rome. He soon found employment in the household of one of the wealthiest music lovers in Europe, Princess Marie de Lorraine, known as Mademoiselle de Guise. She maintained an ensemble of musicians in her home, many of whom doubled as her chambermaids and companions, demonstrating that a varied résumé was as attractive to employers in the seventeenth century as it is now. It was for these young household musicians that Charpentier composed his version of the Orpheus myth in 1686. Calling for a cast of ten singers (including the composer himself) in multiple roles, the opera was most likely accompanied by an orchestra of eight, as we are presenting it now. In just two acts, it ends with Orpheus’ departure with Eurydice from the underworld, and does not contain the subsequent tragic events of the myth. The fact the manuscript closes with “fin du Second Acte” rather than simply “fin” has led some to conjecture that Charpentier composed a third act, and possibly a fourth, now lost.

We at Gotham Chamber Opera, in partnership with Trinity Wall Street, are delighted to begin 2014 with the optimism of Orpheus that all will be well — only, in our case, with more acts to come.

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