Sydney-based Baroque opera company Pinchgut can always be relied upon for something original and its 2022 program, announced today, is no exception. Sydney and Melbourne concerts of music by Monteverdi and Vivaldi rub shoulders with a pair of operas by Cesti and Charpentier – both of them important Australian premieres – and the company has signed up plenty of first-rate singers to carry them off.
The major work, to be staged at Sydney’s City Recital Hall from 1 to 7 December 2022, will be Médée, the greatest opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier and one of the period’s finest lyric tragedies. Originally planned for 2020, the pandemic has delayed the production until now, but this will be the first time that this masterpiece of the French Baroque will have been seen in Australia. Composed to a French libretto by the great Thomas Corneille, Médée premiered at Paris’s Théâtre du Palais-Royal late in 1693 and ran for three months. The only opera Charpentier wrote for the Académie Royale de Musique, it was well received at the time and, thanks to a pair of pioneering recordings by William Christie and Les Arts Florissants, the opera has received similar acclaim in our times.
A retelling of the myth of Medea and Jason, the work features love, betrayal, murder and infanticide with a brilliant scene in the third act where Médée raises the forces of hell to wreak her revenge on the fickle Jason before finally departing on a chariot drawn by dragons. Justin Way, currently Director of Production at Teatro Real in Madrid, has the task of pulling that lot off. Pinchgut Artistic Director Erin Helyard will be at the helm of the Orchestra of the Antipodes with Cantillation supplying the chorus. Internationally acclaimed Australian mezzo-soprano Catherine Carby will take on the role of the frenzied Médée, with Michael Petrucelli as her deceitful one-time lover Jason. The cast also includes Cathy-Di Zhang, Andrew Finden and Adrian Tamburini.
The company’s other opera is a much rarer beast (and another Aussie premiere). The Italian composer Pietro Marc’Antonio Cesti (1623-1669) was one of the leading opera practitioners of his generation and Orontea was one of his biggest successes. Premiering in Innsbruck in 1656, it was revived 17 times over the following 30 years, making it one of the period’s most frequently performed works. (Apparently, even the music-loving diarist Samuel Pepys owned a copy of the score). Forty years ago, René Jacobs’ revival (also in Innsbruck) brought it to our attention but it has been rarely performed since.
A tale of love, disguises, jealousy and the demands of duty and of state, it’s a light-hearted affair with plenty of scope for fun and games. Anna Dowsley heads an excellent cast that includes Pinchgut regulars Max Riebl, David Greco, Jacqueline Dark and Andrew O’Connor with company debuts from New Zealand tenor Jonathan Abernathy and American soprano Sofia Troncoso. The opera will be directed by Constantine Costi, director of Pinchgut’s 2020 opera film A Delicate Fire, and conducted by Helyard. It’s scheduled to run at City Recital Hall in Sydney from 26 May to 1 June.
Before that, the season opens in early April with concerts in Sydney and Melbourne entitled The Spiritual Forest. Published in 1641, Monteverdi’s substantial collection Selva Morale e Spirituale is the greatest anthology of sacred music of its time and a summation of the church music written by the now 74-year-old composer during his Venetian period. Helyard leads Cantillation and an ensemble of instrumentalists from the Orchestra of the Antipodes in a selection of vocal works that range from sacred madrigals to liturgical pieces and where every one is likely to be a winner.
Finally, concerts in September will feature Women of the Pietà, with an ensemble of singers and players headed by Miriam Allan fresh from her ear-catching performance at the funeral of Prince Philip, the late Duke of Edinburgh. The ‘Red Priest’ was famous for the music he composed especially for the orphaned women and girls at Venice’s Ospedale della Pietà and the concerts aim to re-create the sonic splendour and sound of music performed under his direction. Helyard will conduct a chorus of 12 women plus an instrumental ensemble.
The company also plans to continue its successful online offering via Pinchgut At Home. Both concerts are confirmed as part of a digital season and there are hopes to include at least one of the operas, although those details are yet to be finalised.
Full details of the season can be found on the Pinchgut Opera website.