At United Methodist Church in Lakeville, Christine Gevert’s Crescendo organization delivered a semi-staged production of the 1708 opera Acis y Galatea by Antonio de Líteres Carríon, Spain’s major court composer of the first half of the 18th century. This opera employed zarzuela style songs (akin to German Singspiel or English court masque) with poetic prose dialogue as it romped through the literary landscape of pastoral baroque, a genre popular in Italy and Spain but of limited appeal in Northern Europe. The most prominent artifacts in English of this passing fad was Sir Philip Sidney’s failed, monumental, prose epic Arcadia, sections of Edmund Spenser’s belabored epic The Faerie Queen, and a few memorable poems by Andrew Marvel.
All sung parts were performed in Spanish as originally composed and accompanied on period instruments: Christine Gevert, atmospheric harpsichord; Job Salazar, lyric violin, Tricia van Oers on remarkably mellow recorder; Malina Rauschenfels on enthusiastic violincello, Christa Patton on recorder and eloquent harp, Salomé Sandoval on tambourine and frame drum, and not least of all Hideki Yamaya’s expert fingering on baroque guitar and mighty theorbo, which I prefer to call the God-bow.
Pastoral as a genre excels in coy charm and self-conscious literary fable, yet as a genre backpacks limited vocabulary which remains self-consciously artificial. Since the audience was English-speaking Gevert took the liberty of translating Líteres Carríon’s poetic prose libretto into semi-poetic prose and provided the audience with an elaborate program with complete prose text in English. This was a marvelous solution which preserved the authenticity of music and song.
Susanna Schindler, Salomé Sandoval, and Alicia Trimble provided the amusing costumes and stage props. This modest but effective tragicomedy was co-directed by Sandoval and Gevert with robust humor and gleeful villains. The production was a showcase for mezzo-soprano Salomé Sandoval (as Acis), whose passionate voice impressively dominated the second act, rivaled only by British-American soprano Catherine Hancock (as Galatea), who unfurled her mighty, elegant sail in the upper register.
The trinity of low comic relief, which is vital to the theatrical pacing, featured baritone Eric Miranda as the oily, aimiable, drunkard Momo, soprano Malina Rauschenfels as the evil gossip manipulator Tisbe, and bass Thomas Schindler as the grotesque Cyclops Polifemo. This non-human monster of jealousy murders Acis whom the gods elevate into an immortal river. The humor with its roots in Carnival remains piquantly Spanish.
As with many dramas, the first act presented a somewhat bewildering background that prepared the audience for the emotional impact of the second act where the singing (here the chorus was riveting!), acting, and music took wings. It is remarkable that the great roles in Madrid theater were reserved for women in this period, but that was also true of the London stage during the early 18th century. This concert was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, as most of Crescendo’s productions are.
Christine Gevert’s Time-Traveling express next offers Thanksgiving for Life and Love, a program of 16th Century Spanish Polyphony and Contemporary Latin American Folk Music on February 1st at Saint James Place in Great Barrington at 4 pm, and at United Methodist Church in Lakeville, 4 pm on February 2nd.