Yale Baroque Opera Project Presents Rare 17th-Century Work "Scipione Affricano"
Gladiators, cross-dressers and star-crossed lovers will be out in full force when the Yale Baroque Opera Project (YBOP) presents its seventh fully staged production, “Scipione Affricano” by Francesco Cavalli (1602-1676), on December 10 and 11. Performances of the rarely produced opera will take place on Friday at 8:30 p.m. and on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at the Yale University Theater, 222 York St. Admission for both performances is free, and no tickets are required. The work will be sung in Italian with English supertitles.
Cavalli’s opera, with a libretto by Nicolò Minato, premiered in Venice at the Teatro Santi Giovanni e Paolo on February 9, 1664. It was Cavalli’s 26th opera and one of his last. Minato’s libretto adapts the story of one of the most celebrated generals of ancient Rome, Scipio Africanus, so named in honor of his decisive victory over Hannibal in North Africa in the Second Punic War. In the story, Scipio wins the war but loses his heart to the beautiful captive Ericlea. The opera is filled with conventions of the genre including rival lovers, disguises, comic servants and betrayal, and features sparring gladiators and an eerie encounter with the Sibyl.
Long neglected and as yet unrecorded, “Scipione Affricano” has recently been rediscovered. Last spring a semi-staged version of the opera was presented in Seattle. Organizers of the forthcoming Yale production – based on a new edition by Jennifer Williams Brown – contend that this will be the first fully staged production of the opera in 35 years, and the first ever on the East Coast.
This performance of “Scipione Affricano” reunites the Yale team that won wide acclaim for their productions of “Giasone,” also by Cavalli, in 2009 and this past spring’s “La Finta Pazza” by Sacrati. They include Grant Herreid, musical director, Robert Mealy, orchestra director, and Toni Dorfman, stage director. Herreid, a lecturer in Yale’s Department of Music, is a renowned early-music specialist and multi-instrumental musician. Mealy, an internationally known performer of baroque violin, teaches at Juilliard and Yale. Dorfman, a professional director and former mezzo-soprano, teaches in Yale’s Theater Studies Program.
Several of the performers in “Scipione Affricano” are students enrolled in “Analyzing, Directing, and Performing in Early Opera,” a course offering of the Department of Music and Theater Studies Program created three years ago by Richard Lalli, professor of music, and this fall taught by Herreid and Dorfman. The course explores period performance practices, including musical style, dance, Italian elocution and visual design with a view to recreating the authentic experience of an ancient art form.
One of the world’s leading scholars of 17th- and 18th-century Italian music and opera, Ellen Rosand, the George A. Saden Professor of Music at Yale, created the Yale Baroque Opera Project in 2007 with funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation’s Distinguished Achievement Award. Since its inception YBOP has presented two operatic productions each year. Previous productions have included full-length operas by Monteverdi, Cavalli and Strozzi, as well as operatic excerpts of works by Handel and others.
In addition to these fully staged productions featuring undergraduate casts, YBOP sponsors a host of academic activities at Yale designed to expand students’ appreciation of the multidisciplinary art of baroque opera. Since its founding, YBOP has offered courses in the history of opera and the performance practice of vocal and instrumental music of the 17th and 18th centuries; has recruited visiting scholars, practitioners and experts in the field; and has sponsored annual scholarly conferences attracting participants from all over the world.
Video: Excerpts from past YBOP productions: