Join us for a captivating concert of cantatas by Scarlatti, Handel, and Vivaldi featuring the “utterly riveting” (The New York Times) and in-demand American countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo. Appearing with the newly-minted period instrument ensemble Ruckus, this “bona-fide star” (New Yorker) will leave you breathless with every word and note. The program will also include instrumental works by Couperin, Saint Colombe, and Marais.
Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor
Elliot Figg, harpsichord
Shirley Hunt, viola da gamba
Paul Holmes Morton, theorbo and guitar
Clay Zeller-Townson, bassoon
Hugo Abraham, bass
Couperin Les baricades mistérieuses (arr. by Ruckus)
Scarlatti O pace del mio cor, H. 495
Vivaldi Sonata for Cello No. 9 in G Minor, RV 42: Sarabanda, III
Vivaldi Qual per ignoto calle, RV 677
Sainte-Colombe Le Vielle
Purcell ‘Tis Nature’s Voice from Hail! Bright Cecilia, Z.328
Vivaldi Sonata for Cello No. 9 in G Minor, RV 42: Preludio, I
D’India Infelice Didone
Vivaldi Sonata for Cello No. 9 in G Minor, RV 42: Allemanda, II
Forqueray La Marella from Suite No. 4 in G Minor
Handel Pena tiranna io sento al core from Amadigi di Gaula, HWV 11
Handel Rompo i lacci from Flavio, HWV 16
Anthony Roth Costanzo, countertenor
Anthony Roth Costanzo began performing professionally at the age of 11 and has since appeared in opera, concert, recital, film, and on Broadway.
This summer, Costanzo appears at the Rose Theater at Lincoln Center with Master Voices and the Orchestra of St. Lukes as Orfeo in Orfeo ed Eurydice. He sings Nero in L’incoronazione di Poppea at Cincinnati opera, and returns to Japan to reprise his collaboration with Kabuki and Noh artists at Tokyo’s Kabuki-Za. This season, Costanzo made his company and role debut as the title role in Giulio Cesare at the Houston Grand Opera, his debut at the Florida Grand Opera as the title role in Orfeo ed Euridice, and returns to Opera Philadelphia as The Boy in George Benjamin’s Written on Skin. He also appears in Lincoln Center’s White Light Festival in staged performances of the Pergolesi Stabat Mater.
Last year, Costanzo became an exclusive recording artist for Decca Gold, and his first album, a collection of arias by Handel and Phillip Glass with Les Violons du Roy, will be released in the fall of 2018.
Costanzo has appeared at the Metropolitan Opera as both Ferdinand and Prospero in the world premiere of The Enchanted Island, as well as Prince Orlofsky in a new production of Die Fledermaus after making his debut as Unulfo in Rodelinda. He also gave critically acclaimed performances of the title role in Philip Glass’ Ahknaten at the English National Opera and the Los Angeles Opera. He made his European debut at the Glyndebourne Festival in Rinaldo and has since appeared at the English National Opera in Indian Queen, the Teatro Real Madrid in Death in Venice, and the Finnish National Opera in Kaija Sariaaho’s Only the Sound Remains. Other recent opera engagements have included appearances with the San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Dallas Opera, Glimmerglass Festival, Canadian Opera Company, Opera Philadelphia, San Diego Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, Michigan Opera Theater, Palm Beach Opera, The North Carolina Opera, and as a guest with Juilliard Opera. He also produced and starred in two critically acclaimed shows at National Sawdust in Brooklyn, NY: Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, and Orphic Moments which was also staged at the Landestheater in Salzburg.
In concert, Costanzo recently made his debuts with the London Symphony Orchestra and the Berlin Philharmonic in performances of Le Grand Macabre, conducted by Sir Simon Rattle and directed by Peter Sellars. He also appeared in the New York Philharmonic’s acclaimed production of Le Grand Macabre, performed Handel’s Messiah, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Orff’s Carmina Burana with The Cleveland Orchestra, and sang Messiah at Carnegie Hall. He has also appeared in concert with the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE) at both the Mostly Mozart Festival and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, with Jordi Savall in Barcelona, Paris, and Versailles, with Ian Bostrdige and Julius Drake at the Teatro Real, and at the Spoleto Festival USA. In addition, he has been a featured soloist with the orchestras of Indianapolis, Alabama, Detroit, Denver, Seattle and with the National Symphony Orchestra. He has also been presented in recital in Vancouver, Princeton University Concerts, Duke Performances, and at the Morgan Library in New York.
A champion of new work, Mr. Costanzo recently created roles in the world premieres of Jimmy Lopez’s Bel Canto at the Lyric Opera of Chicago and Jake Heggie’s Great Scott at the Dallas Opera. He has also premiered works written for him by Matthew Aucoin, Paola Prestini, Gregory Spears, Suzanne Farrin, Bernard Rands, Scott Wheeler, Mohammed Fairouz, and Steve Mackey. In the spring of 2017 he premiered a new work by Nico Muhly in Boston.
Mr. Costanzo is passionate about interdisciplinary collaboration, and recently helped create two unique presentations of The Tales of Genji with sold-out runs in Kyoto that incorporated traditional Kabuki, Noh actors, dancers and western music. He also created a pasticcio about castrati in collaboration with choreographer Karole Armitage and filmmaker James Ivory which was chronicled by the documentarian Gerardo Puglia. The subsequent film was selected for the Cannes Film Festival, qualified for an Academy Award, and aired on PBS affiliates. Mr. Costanzo played Francis in the Merchant Ivory film, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, for which he was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award, and Simon in Brice Cauvin’s De particulier a particulier. Working with composers, choreographers, directors and performance artists, he has appeared in New York venues such as Le Poisson Rouge, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Joe’s Pub, The Park Avenue Armory, The Guggenheim Museum, and Merkin Concert Hall.
In 2012, Mr. Costanzo won first place in Placido Domingo’s international competition Operalia. He is also a 2009 Grand Finals Winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. He won a George London Award, received a career grant from the Richard Tucker Foundation, and became the first countertenor to win First Place in the Houston Grand Opera Eleanor McCullom competition, where he also won the audience choice prize. He received a Sullivan Foundation Award, and won First Place in the Opera Index Competition, the National Opera Association Vocal Competition, and the Jensen Foundation Competition.
Mr. Costanzo graduated Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa from Princeton University where he was awarded the Lewis Sudler Prize for extraordinary achievement in the arts and where he has returned to teach both a course and master classes. He received his Masters of Music at Manhattan School of Music and won the Hugh Ross Award for a singer of unusual promise. In his youth, he performed on Broadway and in Broadway National Tours including A Christmas Carol, The Sound of Music, and Falsettos. He began his operatic endeavors playing Miles in The Turn of the Screw, and with an appearance alongside Luciano Pavarotti.
Elliot Figg, harpsichord
Shirley Hunt, viola da gamba
Paul Holmes Morton, theorbo and guitar
Clay Zeller-Townson, bassoon
Hugo Abraham, bass
Ruckus is an emerging baroque ensemble with a fresh, visceral approach to early music. The ensemble’s debut in the summer of 2017 in Handel’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo at National Sawdust earned widespread critical acclaim: “achingly delicate one moment, incisive and punchy the next” (The New York Times), “superb” (Opera News).
Ruckus’ core members are a continuo group, the baroque equivalent of a jazz rhythm section: guitars, keyboards, cello, bassoon, and bass. The ensemble aims to fuse the early-music movement’s questing, creative spirit with the grit, groove, and jangle of American Roots music, creating a unique sound of “rough-edged intensity” (The New Yorker). Its members are assembled from among the most creative and virtuosic performers in North American early music, hailing from New York, Boston, and Los Angeles. Beginning in the fall of 2018, the group will be in residence at The Da Camera Society of Los Angeles, where they will develop new programs and engage in community outreach activities. Upcoming projects include a recording and concert tour of the complete Bach Flute Sonatas with flutist Emi Ferguson.
Elliot Figg is a keyboardist, conductor, and composer from Dallas, Texas. Recent appearances include assistant conductor for Dido and Aeneas at LA Opera; assistant conductor and harpsichordist for Vivaldi’s Farnace, and Cavalli’s Veremonda at Spoleto Festival USA. He is a member of Acronym, New York Baroque Incorporated, and New Vintage Baroque.
Shirley Hunt is an internationally respected cellist and viola da gamba player living in Boston, Massachusetts. She is an artist in residence at the Museum of Jurassic Technology in Los Angeles, and performs regularly with Sonnambula at Metropolitan Museum of Art, in addition to many of the country’s leading period instrument orchestras.
Paul Holmes Morton is a songwriter and performer of early guitars living in Brooklyn, New York. He is a graduate of the Juilliard School, and performs where his music takes him.
Clayton Zeller-Townson is a bassoonist and educator living between New York, Vermont, and Los Angeles. He performs regularly with Tafelmusik, Musica Angelica, American Bach Soloists, and is the founder of Ruckus. He is a Young Artist in Residence at the Da Camera Society in Los Angeles.
Hugo Abraham is a French bassist who moved to the U.S. a few years ago to pursue his studies at the New England Conservatory in Boston and is now finishing his Master in Historical Performance degree at The Juilliard School. He feels grateful to live a most busy and diverse musical life. When not dedicating his time to music, he enjoys exploring New York City’s art scenes, translating, and cooking soup for friends.
About the Music.
Program At a Glance
Through vocal and instrumental works from France, Italy, and England, this program explores the richness of Baroque music from its beginnings in the early 1600s to its apotheosis in the 18th century.
The Instrumental Music
While the Italians launched the Baroque musical era at the beginning of the 1600s, French composers later in the century caught up with them and created a style that was distinctly representative of their culture. Under the long reign of Louis XIV, the “Sun King” (1643–1715), the French musical arts flourished alongside the visual.
A contemporary of Antonio Vivaldi and a little older than J.S. Bach, François Couperin (1668–1733) was born into an illustrious dynasty of musicians who were the French equivalent of the Bach family. So established were the Couperins at the court-related Parisian church of St. Gervais that François automatically inherited the post of chief organist from his father, Charles, even though he was only ten at Charles’ death. The young Couperin’s rise thereafter was breathtakingly swift. Louis XIV appointed him court organist in 1693 and was so pleased with his playing and compositions that he raised Couperin to the nobility a few years later. One of his most famous pieces is “Les Barricades mistérieuses,” from the second book of his collected harpsichord pieces, composed in 1717. The meaning of the title is mysterious itself. Various explanations have included the boundary between life and death or the barricade interrupting a road journey; others suggest it is a metaphorical barrier or a musical one. What is not in doubt is that this music is a fascinating exercise in developing a piece from a repetitive motive: a rocking figure on top of a slow repeating bass line.
Little is known about the great French gamba player Sainte-Colombe (c.1640–c.1700), not even his first name was known until recently. He was the revered teacher of the more famous gambist and composer Marin Marais and was given a central role in the 1991 French film Tous les matins du monde, a fictionalized version of the relationship between the two. He is credited with adding a seventh string to the gamba, giving it a richer, fuller sound. Apparently a very modest man, he neither sought a court appointment nor chose to publish his music. Fortunately, more than 60 of his concerts for two viols have survived. We will hear the charming movement called “Le Vielle” or “The Hurdy- Gurdy,” in which the viols provide a wheezing drone accompaniment to a folk-like melody.
Antoine Forqueray (c. 1671–1745) was so talented that when he played before Louis XIV as a young child, the King immediately ordered a teacher for him; by 1689, he had been appointed a musician at the royal court, a position he held his entire life. His skills as a gambist were ranked as highly as Marin Marais’, but while Marais was described by contemporaries as playing “like an angel,” Forqueray played “like a devil,” renowned for his wild, dramatic style. Both Couperin and Rameau wrote pieces in tribute to his distinctive music. In turn, Forqueray saluted another fellow musician with his movement La Marella, named for Giovanni Battista Marella. Its flamboyant chords, dissonance, and virtuosity are a powerful example of Forqueray’s bold, no-holds-barred style.
Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) is far better known for his hundreds of concertos showcasing virtually all the instruments of his period. However, he also wrote more intimate chamber music that appealed to the aristocratic circles of Venice as well as elsewhere in Europe. Because of their intended audience, they were more conservative in style than his concertos as well as more introspective in mood. Although a violinist himself, Vivaldi showed a special feeling for the cello and probably during the 1720s created nine surviving sonatas for this instrument, which was just beginning to rival the dominant viola da gamba as a solo instrument. Ruckus will intersperse three movements from the Cello Sonata in G Minor’s complete four throughout this program; this Sonata also includes a fast closing Gigue movement, which we will not hear.
In his concertos, Vivaldi is particularly renowned for his propulsive, high-energy fast movements, but in the Cello Sonata in G Minor we will be hearing two slow movements that are quite the opposite in character. The first to be played, Sarabanda, is the Sonata’s third movement. Based on the solemn Baroque dance in three beats, this movement is remarkably beautiful, contained, and soulful. Later we will hear the first movement Preludio, a flowing cantabile melody, also in three beats. Finally, we hear the second-movement Allemanda, a much livelier dance in four beats with an implied counterpoint in the cello’s single-voice lines.
The Vocal Selections
Also designed for an aristocratic audience, Vivaldi’s powerful Qual per ignoto calle (“Along unknown paths”) is a secular solo cantata, the vocal chamber-music equivalent to the instrumental sonata. Such cantatas originated in the early 17th century, and we will hear a much earlier example later in D’India’s Infelice Didone. Usually set to poetry by anonymous writers — and it is very possible that Vivaldi wrote these words himself — they were invariably about love, often in its unhappy manifestations.
Qual per ignoto is typical of Italian cantata form in that it contains two highly contrasted arias, separated by recitative. It opens with a dramatic recitative passage in which Vivaldi very skillfully sets the metaphysical scene of the traveler lost in darkest night and menaced by a terrible storm, which he briefly paints in vivid colors. In the first aria, “Quel passagier son io” (“I am that traveler”), he exploits twisting melodic lines that mirror the singer’s tormented and emotionally confused state. Words of suffering such as “cruelty” and “pain” receive emphasis through ornamental melismas and stinging harmonies. Another recitative bridges to the second aria, “Qual dopo lampi e turbini” (“Just as after lightening and gales”), a fast bravura aria in da capo form. The singer’s energetic coloratura passages here are matched by a virtuoso bassoon solo.
Born in Palermo, Sicily and trained in Rome, Alessandro Scarlatti (1660– 1725) became maestro di cappella to Queen Christina of Sweden, a noted patron of the arts in Rome, while still in his late teens. Musically precocious and strikingly handsome, he had a gift for attracting royal and noble patrons throughout his career and by 1684 had moved to the court of Naples, where he served the viceroy for 18 years. During that time, he became one of Italy’s finest and most prolific opera composers; he was renowned also for his secular chamber cantatas, of which he wrote more than 600. Writes Edwin Hanley: “These works crown the history of a genre which … held a rank second only to opera; indeed contemporaries generally placed it above opera in refinement and regarded it as the supreme challenge to a composer’s artistry.”
Scarlatti’s cantatas are also a supreme challenge to a singer’s ability to sing with fluent legato and purity of tone. In the cantata O pace del mio cor (“Oh, my heart’s peace”), the first aria, which bears the same title, demonstrates how much beauty and variety can be created within a continual use of descending lines; the highly expressive middle section is more recitative-like in style. Also in a slow tempo, the second aria, “Spunta l’alba,” reverses the direction of the vocal lines from descending to ascending to portray the coming of dawn and the rising of the sun. The final aria, “La pace del mio core,” is quicker, using a lilting, typically Italianate rhythm.
With Henry Purcell’s (1659–1695) “Tis Nature’s Voice,” we hear one of the most extraordinary arias this English Baroque master ever wrote, set to verse by Nicholas Brady. It comes from Hail! Bright Cecilia, the richest example of the many cantata-like, multi-movement odes Purcell wrote for London’s royal and ceremonial occasions. Scored for about a dozen vocal soloists plus instrumentalists, it was premiered on November 22, 1692 for the elaborate annual celebration of the birthday of Saint Cecilia, patron saint of music. Purcell was a virtuoso of “word illustration” in the English language: the art of conveying both the meaning of words and their emotional connotations through the imaginative use of melodic shapes, harmonic colors, and rhythm. Notice especially his extraordinary settings of the words “grief,” “charm,” and “captivate.” Also that no matter how extensive the ornamentation, the words always shine through clearly.
The earliest of the composers on this program is Sigismondo D’India (c.1582–c.1629), who is ranked just behind the celebrated Claudio Monteverdi as the finest master of the new dramatic vocal style that arose in early-17th-century Italy and was featured in the first operas. Details about his life are sketchy, but he was apparently born in Palermo into the Sicilian nobility. He served as a musician in the court of the Duke of Savoy in Turin for many years, then moved on to the court of the Duke’s son Cardinal Maurizio in Rome; both men were highly cultivated music patrons. Among D’India’s greatest works are the five laments of rejected lovers of antiquity he wrote to his own texts. We will hear Infelice Didone, published in 1623: the despairing monologue of the legendary Queen Dido of Carthage after she was abandoned by Prince Aeneas of Troy, on his way to founding Rome. D’India and the revolutionary composers of his era were striving to capture all the natural inflections of speech and intensify them through music. Here he used a free and rhythmically flexible vocal line and underpinned it with striking dissonances and unexpected harmonies to convey the many psychological stages the bereft Dido undergoes — from disbelief to vengeful anger to an unbearable grief that will drive her to suicide.
Two decades after Purcell, George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) brought a new style to London, compounded of his German training and his fruitful early career in Italy. With Rinaldo, his first opera for London premiered in 1711, he established a fashion for Italian opera in the English capital and followed it up with one operatic triumph after another. Based on a Spanish medieval fantasy, Amadigi di Gaula arrived in 1715 and told the story of two young men in love with the same woman and further enflamed by the wiles of an evil sorceress. The plot was chiefly designed to display the emotional extremes love can cause in the human psyche. Costanzo will sing the gripping song of tormented love “Pena tiranna io sento al core” (“Oppressive pain”), sung by Dardano, the rival to the protagonist Amadigi. Its anguished plunging motive is propelled by tense dotted rhythms; a keening bassoon solo adds unusual color.
Although also inspired by a tangled romantic situation, “Rompo i lacci” (“Break the strings”) from the opera Flavio (1723) is music in a very different style: a fierce, high-speed virtuoso aria in which coloratura and high notes are on constant display. It is sung by Giulio, married to his beloved Emilia and now being asked by his father to kill her father in revenge for a slight against the family honor. In this da capo aria, Handel reveals Giulio’s conflicted sorrow with a contrasting middle section in a new meter with poignant instrumental accompaniment.