Monday, August 17, 2015

More Baroque Music Mania at the ABS Festival

The grandly titled American Bach Soloists Festival & Academy 2015 continued last week at the San Francisco Conservatory with the very belated U.S. premiere of the 1709 French Baroque opera Sémélé by composer Marin Marais.

For an enjoyable appreciation of the performance, click here for Patrick Vaz's post at The Reverberate Hills, where he explains the plot of the Prologue and Five Act opera thus: "The sun god [Apollo] then calls on the muses to tell everyone how Bacchus came about: in the manner of our comic-book movies, it's the origin story!"

The character of this French Baroque Marais Semele (Rebecca Myers Hoke in a lovely performance) is not the vivacious minx of the English Handel operatic version of the tale, but more of a polite, virtuous character buffeted by the Fates and God(esse)s. She loves a young man who has been wooing her, but vows to honor her Theban king father by marrying the victorious warrior Adraste (sung winningly by tenor Steven Brennfleck above). When she nobly confesses that determination to her young swain, he comes out of the closet and admits he is really the God Jupiter. Semele reports this news to Adraste in a breakfup aria and he is justifiably horrified. How do you complete with the King of the Gods as a suitor?

The vocal soloists were all Festival participants and they did a varying job, but the overall quality was very high. The professional American Bach Choir supporting them was seriously superb all evening.

The same can be said for the orchestra which also consisted of young Festival participants with half a dozen professional ringers thrown in as section leaders.

On Saturday evening, there was a "Distinguished Artist" concert starring Canadian Baroque trumpet virtuoso John Thiessen, playing an instrument without valves that is almost impossible to keep in tune, but which he managed to do with perfect aplomb all evening long in a program of Italian and English Baroque music. The remainder of the program consisted of chamber pieces performed by veteran American Bach Soloist professionals, although I realized halfway through that I was missing the Festival participant kids.

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