Ozarks Lyric Opera will perform in concert one of the first operas, in a modern sense, to ever be written: L’Orfeo, a staging of the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice by Claudio Monteverdi, dating from 1607. It may not have been the first “real” opera, but it is certainly the oldest that remains in the “standard” repertoire ” worldwide. I spoke by phone with Christopher Koch, OLO’s musical director and conductor of this performance, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 17, at University Heights Baptist Church on the corner of National Avenue and Grand Street.
“Monteverdi was a very well known composer in his day,” Koch said, “and L’Orfeo is not the very first opera. The honors for this kind of scramble between all that was most recently discovered. But, he continued, L’Orfeo is certainly “the oldest opera to be considered a masterpiece, and also to be performed regularly today, and to have a performing edition that isn’t more or less going to drive everyone crazy.” There is definitely the honors.
Dr Koch stated that the process which culminated in this concert of L’Orfeo made “a long, convoluted story that contains the word COVID”. But Koch has a particular and personal interest in this particular project. “My secret identity, when I am able, is that I am passionate about early music and a performer. Unfortunately, I don’t do a lot of old music, but I love it.
How many period or Historically Informed Performance practice (HIP) instruments are available to musicians in the Springfield area? According to Koch, “There is a small group of people who are also interested in early music, and there are a few string players who are involved in early music projects. Our trombonists for this event use sackbuts, a sort of precursor to trombones. We’re bringing in a guest theorbo player from Indiana University. The theorbo is a fascinating instrument. Imagine a lute and add another neck about seven feet long to it; and add a few more strings to it. And you have this instrument that can play bass notes, but also play sort of lute-like figurations. And that was before keyboard instruments became so prevalent, that this kind of versatile massive stringed instruments that could play both bassline and chords and figuration were used. So Monteverdi actually specifies something like 41 different instruments in his original notes for this piece that could be used, between different types of stringed instruments and different types of brass and intermediate instruments like cones and recorders. , and different types of organs. I mean, it’s fascinating, actually.
One period / HIP instrument practice that Koch and his band will use is to tune their instruments a semitone from the modern concert pitch A = 440 (Hz), to a pitch that would be common to the Baroque era: A = 415. “So, to us, ‘A’ will sound like an ‘A-flat.’
“And that’s something we do to allow us to use the theorbo and other instruments. Then we replace our paper clips with sackbutes. So we don’t exactly use “period instruments”. But we do a lot of things that would have been done historically. “
Certainly, if listeners are not familiar with late Renaissance / early Baroque music, L’Orfeo will sound rather exotic. I was wondering how the singers adapt to this style of old music?
“Probably the greatest fit for a singer,” said Christopher Koch, “is when you’re not singing in a standard pitch, where an A is an A. You have years of experience where your body goes to a certain place. when you see a certain step on the page. So for them, singing in a non-standard pitch is the biggest challenge. The use – or avoidance – of vibrato is the “second challenge,” said Dr. Koch. “Now we kind of think of (vibrato) as a constant in performance practice, but certainly even in the 19th century it really wasn’t something that was always present. So removing some degree of vibrato and using some sort of pure, clear sound in a lot of places is an adjustment. “
Trying to describe the sound of the beginning of the 17thecentury, Christopher Koch said: “I still sort of think of the music of this period as a kind of ‘music of chaos’, in the sense that it sounds ‘familiar’ because the forms and organizational structures of the music. from this era are actually very similar to popular music or jazz, in that it has sort of strophic forms that have a lot of repeating patterns coming up. And at the level of feeling familiar that way, I think it does. But all the rules that were developed later about “Okay, which deal should go to which deal?” These rules were not present at all at the time. I suggested that the composers of the day “really felt out of place”, and Dr Koch agreed.
“And so sometimes it sounds very familiar. And then sometimes it seems very unusual because one chord goes to another and you just don’t expect it. But, ”he added,“ we hear these sounds all the time. This kind of Renaissance / early Baroque sound is present in virtually every fantasy medieval epic you have ever watched! So it’s actually very accessible to the listener. For the performer, this can be frustrating, as Monteverdi and everyone around him also hadn’t really developed the rules for how to grade music. So you read and suddenly there is more beat or less time – or more notes or fewer notes in a measure – than there should be, or it will suddenly change meters. But nothing tells you he did that. So that’s one of the things that you kind of have to feel. “
that of Monteverdi L’Orfeo dramatizes the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Does Eurydice die at the end or is she reunited with Orpheus? I tried to entice Dr Koch to this point, but he avoided it a bit. “The traditional story of Orpheus and Eurydice, of course, has no happy ending,” he admitted. “This particular version that Monteverdi created with his librettist, I would call a ‘mixed’ ending. So without giving it all away, I would say it maintains the dramatic arc of the original myth, but has a little extra something at the end that was for sure designed not to let audiences get too much of it. depressed.
“In the Renaissance,” Dr. Koch continued, “entertainment and public performances were very diverse, you know, coming from the Renaissance. The people who would develop baroque opera decided that opera should often have mythical or legendary themes, and often baroque opera is very depressing! I mean, it’s just often. So it’s a little different and things are not entirely lost as they are in the current legend.
Koch described the cast for this performance as “kind of a combination of some of our mainstays and a few guest performers. Thus, our own Anne Marie Daehn sings several roles, including Eurydice. And she is of course our resident director, but also a wonderful mezzo-soprano. Andrew Curtis, who has performed in many OLO events, sings Orpheus. And Michael Payne will be singing both Pluto and Charon in this particular version. Steven Baumgartner sings the role of Apollo. And then we have a variety of local artists who are basically a madrigal choir. If you’ve ever seen a modern production of Orfeo-or “modern” over the last 30 years – it’s gotten bigger and bigger, and it’s not uncommon to see a 30, 40, 50 choir. But when Monteverdi did, he used four or five people. It wasn’t supposed to be such a big ordeal. So we took that and reinterpreted Monteverdi’s original intention. So, a chamber choir. And we have a wonderful young artist coming in. This is our second young artist of the season, Joanna Pope, who came from New York to sing the role of Persephone. And then, of course, our other great guest artist is Adrian Murillo. He comes to play theorbo. And he’s a fundamental part of this whole performance and something that makes it even more special, because I don’t think any of our musicians have ever played with a theorbo player. We are therefore very happy to welcome him. “
As mentioned earlier, this will be an unstaged “concert” performance, but that’s not unusual in the history of this opera, according to Christopher Koch. “We’re pretty much doing a direct concert version of it. In fact, until the 20th century, when anyone played Orfeo it would still be a concert. Even when you’re directing it, the nature of this kind of opera is really public storytelling with music. This is essentially what it is. And when Monteverdi first created it, it really evolved from that tradition that when a theatrical performance or some other type of live theater was given, there was often music in the intermission or music as an interlude between the scenes. And that started to evolve into a much more robust art form, which would become opera. So even if we did direct it, it wouldn’t be much different from what people will see next Friday. “
Dr. Koch will direct the show. Well, sort of, he said. “’Driving’ is probably too broad a word for what I’m doing. Conductors did not exist at the start of the 17th century. But for sure, the original performances of Orfeo were made as jazz musicians would. The musicians just did it – they just got together and they just did it, and they took inspiration from each other as needed. So I will conduct the sections with the most instruments, so I will conduct part of the opera. But most of the opera takes place with only a few instruments accompanying different singers. And in those sections, either I’ll stay completely out of the way (or) I’ll help our players a bit just to navigate from one section to another.
General admission tickets for Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo Dec. 17 are $ 30 and are available online at https://www.ozarkslyricopera.com, or by calling their office at (417) 863-1960, Monday through Friday from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.