On Saturday, April 27 and Sunday, April 29, the Yale Baroque Opera Project, or YBOP, will present its 15th annual production, Luigi Rossi’s 1647 opera “Orfeo.” The performances will take place at the University Theatre at 3 p.m. on both dates.
Rossi, an Italian composer of operas and cantatas who lived in the first half of the 17th century, was best known for his opera “Orfeo.” The libretto, written by Francesco Buti, is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice — a myth that foregrounds music as a narrative tool. This work was one of six Italian operas presented at the French court in the mid-17th century in an attempt by Cardinal Jules Mazarin to introduce Italian culture to France. Some scholars claim that “Orfeo” was initially not well received by the French public, but today, “Orfeo” is one of the most frequently performed operas of the early Baroque period.
YBOP’s production of Orfeo will be set on a ship. Stage Director and Theater Studies professor Toni Dorfman noted that during a recent voyage around New Zealand, she envisioned setting this “tragicomic version” of Orpheus and Eurydice on a ship under the sky.
“The joy of love, the pain of losing love, the love of dancing, the terror of death are this opera’s music, much of it in close harmony in ethereally high registers,” Dorfman said. “We’ve set the opera as a play within a play, on an 18th-century French sailing vessel in the South Pacific, where the sky can often be as beautiful as Rossi’s music.”
The members of the cast — ranging from first years to seniors who have performed in YBOP productions in every year of their undergraduate career — will portray members of the ship’s crew. Sarah Grube ’22, a first year in the production, noted that it has been fun and informative to participate in a production as professional as YBOP’s.
“Yale is the first place I’ve been able to perform in staged operas,” Grube said. “It’s been really exciting getting to learn and observe the process of putting on such a fantastically intricate show.”
YBOP’s production of “Orfeo” will feature a small baroque orchestra comprised almost entirely of Yale College and Yale School of Music students. According to Grant Herreid, the production’s music director and a lecturer in the Department of Music, when Rossi composed “Orfeo,” he had the vast orchestral resources of the French court at his disposal. These resources differed drastically from those in contemporary Venice, where theaters sought to make money by producing operas on a budget. YBOP’s ensemble will resemble a theater band in the Venetian style, with violins, cello, viola de gamba, theorbos, harpsichords, recorders and a baroque triple harp.
Herreid said that working with Yale undergraduates on baroque opera is “always a great pleasure and a rewarding experience.”
“Our students combine their academic acumen, energetic curiosity, and musical and dramatic talent, to make studying, learning and presenting Rossi’s ‘Orfeo’ a wonderful experience for Toni Dorfman and me,” Herreid said.
The performance will also be the public debut of two 18th-century antique baroque violins that were purchased by the Department of Music this January. Vivian Mayers ’21, who will be playing baroque violin in the production, noted that Baroque music “generally requires much less technical virtuosity” than music of later periods, but “leaves more room for expressive creativity.”
“Baroque performers spend a lot of time deciding exactly what the shape and character of each note, phrase, and larger section should be,” Mayers said. “Typically, Baroque composers did not write many dynamic markings or expressive slurs in their music, so all of this is up to the artistic discretion of the performer. To me, the liberty of interpretation and quasi-improvisatory style that comes with Baroque performance is what makes it so exciting.”
In order to participate in YBOP, students audition for and enroll in a music department course at the outset of the spring semester. The project was founded in 2007 to introduce Yale students to the study of 17th- and 18th-century Italian opera and was originally funded by an Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grant.
Previous YBOP productions include Francesco Cavalli’s “L’Egisto,” “La Didone” and “Erismena,” as well as Claudio Monteverdi’s “L’Incoronazione di Poppea” and “L’Orfeo.”
The University Theatre is located at 222 York Street.
Rianna Turner | email@example.com