L’Orfeo, Missing Glass, and Spec Recording
by Stephen Stubbs
Performing Monteverdi’s Orfeo over the past weekend in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver was even more of a thrill than I had anticipated. The company of 9 singers and 18 instrumentalists quickly grew together into a powerful musical and dramatic unit, all in service of Monteverdi’s sublime conception and Colin Balzer’s magnificent portrayal of Orfeo. Colin mentioned to me that when he performed in a production of L’Orfeo in Vancouver in 2000 led by Paul O’Dette and me, that that had been his first professional engagement after University. He played first shepherd to Paul Agnew’s Orfeo. Seventeen years later he has developed into an ideal embodiment of the demigod of singing, and it was a special thrill to see him welcomed by the Vancouver audience to a hero’s return to his hometown. Another treat for me on that occasion was to do a pre-concert talk together with Early Music Vancouver’s artistic director Matthew White and eminent English musicologist Ian Fenlon. I had read Ian’s books and articles but never met him. Matt observed us talking together when we first met, and remarked that it’s always fun to hear musicians and musicologists speaking about music they love from their different points of view. Ian forthrightly commented “that depends on who the musician is!” So I felt especially honored that we hit it off so well.
The only blemish on the entire L’Orfeo experience was the fact that the St. Mark’s restoration project (which had been due to conclude by the end of summer) had not managed to complete the last two of the outside windows to the Cathedral, which meant that outside noise made the quiet moments harder to hear for the audience. With our sold-out audience, and no viable alternative venue, we had no choice but to proceed with the performance there. We tried to offset the disturbance with subtle electronic enhancement of the sound as well as the use of acoustical shells. For our next performance in December of Bach Cantatas the outside restoration will be complete and we will do further enhancement to assure the best possible acoustical experience for our listeners.
The program will feature Bach’s especially festive Cantatas for Advent with a wonderful group of vocal soloists, featuring Tess Altiveros as the soprano soloist who was also our Euridice and Proserpina in L’Orfeo. Tess is also now on the PMW administrative team, and has been especially effective in refreshing our presence on social media and building bridges between PMW and the opera world of the Northwest and beyond.
Finally, there is exciting news about our recording of Handel’s music for tenor with soloist Aaron Sheehan and the PMW orchestra. We made the recording last February at the same time as we presented the concert of this music. The recording was made with a true “dream team” including producer David Sabee (GRAMMY Award winner) and recording engineer Dmitri Lipay (responsible for all of the GRAMMY – Nominated and GRAMMY-winning Seattle Symphony recordings of recent years) and our star tenor Aaron Sheehan (who won the GRAMMY award with me for the Best Opera Recording of 2015 with the Charpentier recording by the Boston Early Music Festival ensemble). With this confluence of GRAMMY-winning talent, we felt we could take the step of making the recording as we say “on spec”, that is, without a pre-existing contract with a record company. Our bet has now paid off in the best possible way in that we have been picked up for commercial release by the NAXOS company. The recording was made in the beautiful acoustical space of the Bastyr Chapeland it was recorded with the most advanced technology of surround-sound. The GRAMMY association has newly created a separate award category for surround sound, so we may well be in the running for that as well as for the usual artistic and technical categories. We will keep you posted on all of this!