Kevin D. Skelton, Yulia Van Doren, Karen Modigh, and Caroline Copeland in 2011 BEMF Centerpiece Opera production of Steffani's 'Niobe, Regina di Tebe' (credit André Costantini)
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass.) – The Boston Early Music Festival (BEMF), which the New York Times just called “consistently imaginative,” returns to the Berkshires with two opera productions at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center from Friday, June 24 through Monday, June 27. The four performances will include the fully-staged North American premiere production of Steffani’s Niobe, Regina di Tebe on Friday, June 24 and Saturday, June 25 at 7 and an encore presentation the BEMF Chamber Opera Series production of the 1718 chamber version of Handel’s Acis and Galatea on Sunday, June 26 at 3:30 and Monday, June 27 at 7.
The operatic centerpiece of the 2011 Festival will be the North American premiere of Niobe, Regina di Tebe (Niobe, Queen of Thebes) by the Italian composer Agostino Steffani (1653–1728). Niobe will be led by three-time Grammy-nominated BEMF artistic co-directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs; along with stage director and set designer Gilbert Blin; costume designer Anna Watkins; choreographers Caroline Copeland and Carlos Fittante; and lighting designer Lenore Doxsee.
Charles Robert Stephens, Colin Balzer, and Yulia Van Doren in BEMF Centerpiece Opera production of Steffani's 'Niobe, Regina di Tebe' (photo by André Costantini)
The internationally acclaimed cast will be led by soprano Amanda Forsythe in the title role of Niobe. She has performed in numerous BEMF opera productions and is a rising star who has garnered critical acclaim for her “lovely range of vocal colors, gorgeous top notes and terrific agility” (the Wall Street Journal). In the role of Anfione, Niobe’s husband, countertenor Philippe Jaroussky makes his North American stage début. He has established himself as one of the world’s greatest countertenors with a 2008 Echo Award for Best Singer and a profile in the New York Times Magazine among the growing number of accolades for his virtuosic coloratura and compelling dramatic interpretations.
Joining them will be the internationally-acclaimed 34-piece Boston Early Music Festival Orchestra, the new BEMF Baroque Dance Ensemble, and members of the nationally renowned PALS Children’s Chorus. Flying effects will be provided by ZFX, Inc.
Composed in 1688 while Steffani was employed by Maximilian Emanuel, Elector of Bavaria in Munich, Niobe, Regina di Tebe is composed to a libretto by Luigi Orlandi, inspired by the mythological tale in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. One of the more tragic figures of Greek mythology, Niobe ruled the city of Thebes with her husband Anfione. Niobe considered herself the gods’ equal, and in a moment of arrogance, mocked the god Leto for having a mere two children to her own brood of seven sons and seven daughters. Leto avenged this act of hubris by slaying all fourteen of Niobe’s children.
Overwhelmed with grief, Anfione took his own life upon learning of the deaths. With her entire family gone, Niobe turned to stone, from which her tears now endlessly flow.
Teresa Wakim and Aaron Sheehan in the 2009 BEMF Chamber Opera Series production of Handel's Acis and Galatea (credit David Walker)
In addition to the fully staged centerpiece opera, the 2011 Festival will feature an encore production of the BEMF Chamber Opera Series’ intimate staging of Handel’s original 1718 chamber version of Acis and Galatea.
Written as a courtly entertainment about the simplicity of rural life, Acis and Galatea depicts the love affair between the nymph Galatea (Teresa Wakim, soprano) and the shepherd Acis (Aaron Sheehan, tenor), who must endure a long separation.
Their reunion is thwarted by the giant Polyphemus (Douglas Williams, baritone), who is himself in love with Galatea. Polyphemus kills Acis, and as Galatea laments the loss of her lover, she uses her divine powers to transform Acis into an everlasting fountain. This semi-staged production features performances by the BEMF Vocal and Chamber Ensembles under the direction of musical directors Paul O’Dette and Stephen Stubbs and stage director Gilbert Blin.
Recognized as the preeminent early music presenting organization in North America, the Boston Early Music Festival has been credited with securing Boston’s reputation as “America’s early music capital” (the Boston Globe). Founded in 1981, the Boston Early Music Festival offers diverse programs and activities, including three Grammy-nominated opera recordings, an annual concert series that brings early music’s brightest stars to the Boston and New York concert stages, and a biennial week-long Festival and Exhibition recognized as the “world’s leading festival of early music” (The Times, London).
Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center
14 Castle Street
Great Barrington, Mass.