Curtains may close on opera project

If the Yale Baroque Opera Project does not find additional funding, the performances of “Le Tre Stagioni” last weekend and “La Finta Pazza” in the spring could be the program’s swan song.

The YBOP, funded by a three-year, $1.5 million Distinguished Achievement Award that music professor Ellen Rosand received from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in 2007, recreates 17th and 18th century operas using period instruments and techniques. Now, as the Mellon grant expires, the project will seek University funding to continue, but current financial restraints might force the project to scale down, Rosand said.

Daniel Harrison, the chair of the Music Department, said the Mellon Foundation typically gives grants in the hopes that the home institution will continue to support the program after its grant ends.

But in light of the University’s budget cuts this past year, continuing to organize two major shows will likely be too expensive, Rosand said. In an attempt to salvage the program next year, YBOP may limit its 2010-’11 season to a single performance in January.

The project brings together students and faculty from the undergraduate music department, the School of Music and the Institute of Sacred Music. Harrison said this interdepartmental nature of the group will be a selling point for receiving additional funds from the University.

Since its inception, the number of students auditioning to join YBOP at the beginning of each year has doubled, in part, because of the program’s close ties to courses offered in the Music Department, Harrison explained.

One such class that collaborates with the project is “The Performance of Vocal Music,” taught by music professor Richard Lalli MUS ’86. Lalli, who is also the project’s artistic director, said he has shaped his course to help train students for the productions at the end of each semester.

“Putting on an opera is one of the most expensive things in the art world,” said Lalli, who plans to continue to support the program through his teaching as long as YBOP continues to exist.

David Leigh ’10, who took the vocal performance class with Lalli and has performed in every YBOP production, said much of the appeal of YBOP for him is in the interaction between undergraduate performers, graduate school faculty and musicians.

“In retrospect, the reason I’ve stuck around is basically due to the fact we work with people who we’re not usually supposed to work with until we’re 22,” Leigh said.

Last weekend’s performance of “Le Tre Stagioni” (“The Three Seasons”) featured a collection of works by George Frideric Handel woven together into a single story. The accompanying orchestra used period instruments such as the harpsichord, transverse flute and baroque era string instruments as well as experimenting with playing techniques from the baroque period, such as tuning instruments at lower pitches, using different bows and special ways of accompaniment to reproduce original performances of famous operas. Former YBOP performances include Claudio Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo,” and Francesco Cavalli’s “ Giasone.”

“It’s very expressive music that embodies an emotion in each piece,” Rosand said.

The Yale Baroque Opera Project will present Francesco Sacrati’s “La Finta Pazza” in the spring.

Dec. 9, 2009

An earlier version of this article misspelled Francesco Cavalli’s famous opera “Giasone.”

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