Penelope Appleyard (Fillide) & Angela Hicks in Handel's pastoral cantata Aminta e Fillide at St George's, Hanover Square on 28 November 2019
Baroque Opera Productions - The Mission
Like many involved with opera I have long been a firm adversary of much modern opera production, sometimes described by the German term Regietheater (director’s theatre), the imposition of a personal 'concept', invariably updated to the present time and frequently politically motivated. Such productions fail to respect or attempt to understand the intentions of the composer, the librettist and the scenic design originally envisaged. In the case of early opera they actually work in diametric opposition to the aesthetic and ethos of the period, which actively sought to project illusion and the spectacular, purposely distanced from the everyday world.
However, it is all too easy to adopt a purely negative stance, to attack something that is wrong without having answers to put it right. That is why I am now planning the formation of a company that will take a dual approach to claiming at least some opera back from those who have corrupted its objective, which is of course to entertain.
1. The formation of a commercial company, Baroque Opera Productions (BOP), dedicated to the historical staging of operas of the 17th and 18th century. Its work would be on the basis of commissions obtained from established opera houses in the UK and Europe or even theatre spaces not accustomed to the staging of opera. It will involve a dedicated team of experts, led (but not dominated) by a producer and also including stage and dress designers etc. This team would initially be employed on a free-lance basis according to commissions received, thus negating the necessity of wage expenses and employment complexities.
2. The foundation of workshops dedicated to the study of the revival of period production of 17th and 18th century Baroque opera. The alumni of such a workshop would eventually provide the producers etc of the future, the most talented of whom would be added to the forces of BOP. Having a didactic purpose, the workshop arm of BOP would be eligible for Lottery Heritage arts funding, which would be sought.
3. Innovative preliminary exploration into restoring the symbiotic relationship between performer and audience, who during the Baroque interacted in a manner lost during the 19th century. I see this as absolutely critical to audiences gaining new understanding of gesture and projection of emotion by the singer. This again might be achieved both in workshops and in co-operation with suitable opera productions.
I am no longer young and while I would hope to play an active role in guiding the proposed company and workshop for as long as I am able, I see it as far more important to gather around me a body of talented and motivated younger people whose aims correspond broadly with my own. That is to say to see Baroque opera in the holistic terms in which it was conceived, or in the words of the 18th century artist and writer John Brown, ‘every thing must tend to the same point; so that the poet, the musician, the actor, must all seem to be informed by one soul’. It is perhaps pertinent to make the point that the project will have opponents such as those who will view it as reactionary, an attempt to return a living form to a museum. In fact the converse is true. Far from being a stilted, moribund form Baroque opera staged in accord with contemporary conventions would be one of the most vital forms of living theatre, an immensely exciting experience in which the use of improvised ornamentation would make every performance a new experience, an adventure. The limited number of houses regularly staging some form of historical opera production such as Drottningholm in Sweden and Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic, prove each summer that there is a considerable taste and demand for such stagings.
From January 2018, I am delighted to announce a new partnership with Opera Settecento, a young and vital opera company dedicated to reviving neglected opera serie under the musical direction of Leo Duarte. We will hope to concentrate initially on workshops for both performers and audiences devoted to rediscovering the lost arts of performance practice in the 18th century opera house.
March 2019 saw the start of an exciting collaborative Handel project with Fair Oriana, the outstanding young soprano duo Angela Hicks and Penelope Appleyard https://www.fairoriana.com. Following study and practice of Baroque gesture and movement we mounted an acclaimed historically informed staged performance of Handel's large-scale cantata Aminta e Fillide, conducted by Leo Duarte and promoted by Opera Settecento and the Handel Friends, at St George's, Hanover Square in London on 28 November. The progress of our work and a gallery of photos can be found on a Blog on this site. This production of Aminta e Fillide represented a small but vital step in the quest to restore beauty, elegance and eloquence to the staging of Baroque music drama. It received an enthusiastic review in the February 2020 edition of Opera magazine. September 2020 saw the launch of a new video 'Toward a Better Understanding of Baroque Opera': https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3SmJ5tfTvIk
Longer term plans for BOP will obviously require far more substantial funding. If what I am passionate about trying to achieve inspires a sympathetic reaction with anyone in a position to help in any way, then I would of course be delighted if you would get in contact with me. Equally, if you’re not in a position to help but think you know someone who might be, I would be equally pleased to hear from you. Alternatively you might like to make a donation toward the cost of maintaining this site, which you can do below. Thank you so much for reading thus far.
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