There’s always an oddity, a never-before-heard work, performed at Boston’s annual Early Music Festival. But back in 2009 budget cuts forced the cancellation of Christoph Graupner’s
Antiochus und Stratonica
, and it’s only now that we’re finally getting to hear this delightful opera – an exuberant comedy-drama by a 20-something composer keen to show off all musical tools in his kit.
There are shades of Phaedra to a plot that centres on the illicit passion Prince Antiochus feels for his stepmother Stratonica. Fortunately, this isn’t a tragedy, and when King Seleucus learns of the “sickness” that’s killing his beloved son, he swiftly suggests a wife-swap and everyone lives happily ever after.
There’s a lightness of touch to Graupner’s score that somehow transforms this rather stodgy subject into a genuinely charming entertainment. A large orchestra rich in recorders, oboes, bassoon and a glittering baroque harp keeps the colours coming, and both the many dance interludes and the obbligato arias are wonderfully varied in their textural shading – with an unexpected solo viola, a gruffly comic bassoon and chirruping flocks of woodwind all adding to the picture.
There’s also a flexibility to the musical form – arioso and short, strophic songs mixed up among...