A jewel in a new setting
But rehearsal after rehearsal, Forsythe and his comrades are getting used to the atmosphere of Calderwood, where this weekend “Amadigi” will become the first full opera staged by GBH. And for all the growing pains the singers have experienced adapting to the space, Calderwood — where Boston Baroque has staged all of its concerts this season — offers several advantages that Jordan doesn’t. The space was available for the “Amadigi” cast and crew for the entire two-week rehearsal period; Had the show been in Jordan, they would have had less than a day in the venue, with little time to polish scene transitions, costume changes, and other staging details.
Plus, since the production isn’t on the New England Conservatory’s busy schedule, the singers weren’t the only ones who had time to get used to the space. The production team, led by director Louisa Muller, had time to transform it. With the help of projection designer Ian Winters, “Amadigi” promises to transform Calderwood from a utilitarian television studio into a mysterious and magical landscape.
When I visited Calderwood, the singers’ rehearsal had been moved to nearby Fraser Performance Studio due to the planned arrival of several massive panels. These were to wrap around the stage on three sides, surrounding the singers with panoramic projections of Winters.
“I’m really interested in taking these places that have a kind of reality to them but also a timelessness to them,” said Winters, a San Francisco-based artist who spends part of the year in England, where he’s photographed several landscapes that found themselves in the screenings. for “Amadigi”. The goal was to leave the time and place ambiguous, he said, to help the audience “really land there”.
Muller, who directed England’s Garsington Opera Festival and the Metropolitan Opera, said she felt a palpable difference in an unconventional space such as Calderwood, which does not physically or spiritually separate audiences from performers. “There’s a real informality to it…there are just fewer barriers between the thing itself and the audience we invite.”
Opera has been a central part of the Boston Baroque repertoire since the 1981 production of Monteverdi’s “L’incoronazione di Poppea” which opened the first Boston Early Music Festival, said musical director and founder Martin Pearlman. Over the following decades, the company’s stage projects became more elaborate. When Forsythe started singing with Boston Baroque in the early 2000s, the performers wore their own clothes. From now on, the company hires a costume designer as well as a lighting designer. But Pearlman says he has always “resisted the idea” of a staged classical opera.
“We’re not organized like an opera company, and it’s also extremely expensive. And…my own interest was really focused on the music,” Pearlman said. Staged operas usually place the orchestra offstage, most often in a sunken pit; for Pearlman, that was out of the question. “The [musicians’] the activity, like bowing, is only part of the drama,” he said.
But with Jordan Hall unavailable for the 2021-22 season, Pearlman and executive director Jennifer Ritvo Hughes decided that whatever they do instead shouldn’t feel like a diet version of their regular season. And after solidifying the partnership with GBH, Pearlman began to view the season at Calderwood as an experiment, which yielded satisfying results. “Next season we plan to return to Jordan, but also broadcast from here,” he said. “We can’t do streaming any other way, and now we have this massive audience everywhere.”
“Amadigi” was suggested by countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, who was looking forward to working with Boston Baroque again after performing alongside Forsythe in the company’s 2019 “Poppea” at Jordan Hall. “I love this opera. It’s not done very often, and I think there’s amazing music,” said Costanzo, who plays the titular Knight Amadigi, shortly after doing the bike rehearsal from his hotel.
The opera falls early in the timeline of Handel’s career, having been premiered in 1715 shortly after the composer settled in London. It is based on a medieval epic, which Forsythe described as a “classic plot”.
“There are only four characters, and we’re all in love with the wrong person,” said Forsythe, who plays vengeful witch Melissa.
“It’s really focused on the emotions and inner lives of these four characters. And because there are so few of them, you really get to know them,” Muller said.
Costanzo’s recommendation linked Muller to Boston Baroque. They had worked together on her Met debut more than a decade ago when she was part of the house’s management team. “I didn’t really have a lot of rehearsals, and it was Louisa who really helped me feel comfortable,” said Costanzo, who won a Grammy Award this year for his lead role in the recording by the Met of “Akhnaten” by Philip Glass.
“She mixes that kind of thinking about character and storytelling with a kind of hands-on mapping, which is really helpful for a singer because your brain is busy with so many thoughts. So when you really know what you need to do, it’s incredibly helpful,” Costanzo said.
During the afternoon rehearsal, three of the principals – Costanzo, Forsythe and mezzo-soprano Daniela Mack – walked the first stage of the show. Forsythe made a move through a short sequence in which her character casts a magic spell, while Muller explained what would be projected behind the singer.
Forsythe hadn’t seen any of the screenings yet, but she felt comfortable. “I’ve done shows before that were minimal in terms of sets, where they added video effects, and it’s transformative. You just have to trust the process and believe it’s going to look good. And I’m sure it will be,” she said.
Although Boston Baroque doesn’t always pay the same attention to visual effects as it does for “Amadigi”, Forsythe is adamant that the company’s operas have always been characterized as fully staged, not ” semi-staged”, a term often used to describe any opera. without a full set and lavish accessories.
“If something is memorized and you act on it, it’s all staged, in my opinion,” she said. “Especially in a Handel opera… you really have to bring the drama yourself. You can’t rely on ‘OK, now that’s where the horse comes in.’ She stopped. “I don’t know, I haven’t spoken to Louisa about it. There could be a horse!
AMADIGI DE GAULA
GBH Calderwood Studio. April 21, 22 and 24. Livestream available on Idagio until May 22. baroque.boston