In their upcoming production, members of the Yale Baroque Opera Project will perform in English for the first time ever.
“Erismena,” with music by Francesco Cavalli and libretto by Aurelio Aureli, opens this Saturday at the University Theater. The show centers on a woman who disguises herself as a male warrior to pursue her love interest. Ethan Heard ’07 DRA ’13, the show’s stage director, highlighted that the production is a rare occasion because “Erismena” has only been performed a few times in the United States.
“There is only one recording I know of and that is from the 60’s, I have certainly never heard of it [being performed],” Heard said.
Grant Herreid, the production’s musical director, said that 17th-century operas mostly consist of two elements: the recitative and the aria. The recitative refers to the act of speaking text in a musical style was a new invention in 17th-century music. The recitative is typically followed by the aria, a solo vocal part designed to express a character’s emotions.
For the production, YBOP is using a 17th-century English translation of “Erismena.” According to Heard, the history of the original translation dates back to when an Englishman first watched a performance of the piece in Italy circa 1655 and went back five more times to watch it. He eventually paid for it to be transcribed and translated it into English. Heard noted that performing the piece in English will make the opera more accessible to the audience, referring to it as “a wonderful introduction to baroque opera.”
Ariadne Lih ’17, who plays the character Aldimira, said that performing the show in English has been both a blessing and a challenge.
“It is hard because you really have to make sure you are getting the text across, but this will make it more approachable for people,” Lih said.
Courtney Sanders ’16, who plays the protagonist Erismena in the show, noted that while a translated English script was easier to learn, the performers must pay more attention to the substance of the plot because audiences will be able to understand what they are saying.
Heard emphasized that in 17th-century baroque operas, vocal parts are only accompanied by a few instruments, which gives singers a large amount of control over the music, but puts additional pressure on the performers. Herreid also highlighted the complexity of the play’s technical elements, which include scenic shifts and lighting changes.
The orchestra featured in the show includes a number of instruments that were used during the 17th century, such as a theorbo, a plucked string instrument with an extended neck. Herreid noted that this production offers a unique opportunity for audience members to hear instruments that are rarely used in modern-day shows.
Heard said that since the piece was written roughly 50 years after Shakespearean classics such as “Twelfth Night” and “The Winter’s Tale,” he notices many parallels between “Erismena” and Shakespeare’s works.
“I think of this piece as a sister piece to those two Shakespeare plays. It’s a delightful mix of romance, comedy, mistaken identity and drag performance,” Heard said.
Another innovation of the YBOP’s production of the opera is the introduction of a new character into the original storyline. Heard said after noticing that several characters sing about “Cupid” throughout the show, the production team decided to create a Cupid character, which is now played by a local high school student. While the Cupid doesn’t speak or sing, it acts as the show’s “MC and master magician”, according to Heard.
There are two showings of “Erismena,” on Saturday and Sunday at 3 p.m.
Correction, April 22
A previous version of this article mistakenly stated that Ethan Heard is the show’s stage manager. He is, in fact, the show’s stage director.