ROCHESTER, NY — It’s carnival season in France, 1675. Ridicule and liberties abound, everyone is in disguise and nothing is as it appears. To celebrate this joyous season of masquerades, the incomparable composer Jean-Baptiste Lully from the court of Louis XIV is premiering Le Carnaval Mascarade, an entertaining musical theater pastiche from several of his favorite earlier works — and often based on the playwright Moliere’s brilliant satires — at the newly-founded Paris Opera.
Fast-forward just over three centuries to 2003, a time when reality TV pervades, ridicule and irony are everywhere, and again, nothing is as it appears. How appropriate that a fully-staged and costumed Le Carnaval Mascarade is again in preparation — for two upcoming performances — through a collaborative effort between the Eastman School of Music and Cornell University. On Friday, October 3, the Eastman School hosts the first performance at 7 p.m. at Kilbourn Hall (26 Gibbs Street) in Rochester, NY, followed on Saturday, October 4 by an 8 p.m. performance at Barnes Hall on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.
This is the first complete production of the work in its entirety since its last revival in 1700, according to the producer, Rebecca Harris-Warrick, professor of music at Cornell and a specialist in Baroque music and dance, who conceived of this production. “Le Carnaval Mascarade careens wildly between genres,” says Harris-Warrick. “Sung in four languages, it looks like a ballet and it sounds like an opera; you laugh, in turn, at the satire of Molière, and then at the antics of commedia dell’arte characters. It is bound to provide quite an engaging spectacle for a modern audience.”
Although Lully is well known as the creator of French opera — especially of the noble tragédie en musique —what is often overlooked, says Harris-Warrick, is that Lully also put comic works onto the stage of the Paris Opera. For Le Carnaval Mascarade’s 1675 premiere, only three years after the Paris Opera had opened its doors, Lully pulled together favorite scenes from his pre-operatic Molière-collaborations, including the famous “Turkish initiation scene” from the Bourgeois Gentilhomme. Italian by birth, Lully’s familiarity with the commedia dell’arte plays out in several scenes reused in Le Carnaval Mascarade, sung in Italian or a mixture of Italian and French.
In this opera-ballet, as in all of Lully’s stage works, dance plays a crucial role, and this production will allow audiences to see a range of styles from the elegant to the burlesque. Choreographer Ken Pierce, a leading specialist in Baroque dance, joins three professional dancers from his own company in Boston. For these performances, he has reconstructed several choreographies that survive from the 1700 revival in Feuillet notation (a dance notation developed at the end of the 17th century which tracks the dance steps according to the musical melody atop the page), in addition to new “historically informed” choreography. The four highly-regarded professional Baroque lead singers hail from Paris, New York, and California: renowned bass Paul Shipper; haute-contre (high tenor) and Eastman alumnus Marc Molomot; soprano and Cornell doctoral candidate Rebecca Plack; and falsettist and Eastman alumnus, Caleb Burhans. The remaining soloists and chorus are drawn from Eastman’s Baroque ensemble Collegium Musicum and from the voice program at Cornell; the orchestra is a combined effort of the Eastman ensemble and Les petits violons de Cornell featuring Cornell’s early music concertmaster, Wiebke Thormählen.
The performances are being led by Music Director Paul O’Dette and Stage Director Beth Milles. O’Dette, associate professor and director of early music at the Eastman School, is an internationally known lutenist who performs and records around the globe, and is co-artistic director of the Boston Early Music Festival. For this production, he will be conducting from the lute as part of the continuo section of the small Baroque orchestra. Milles, assistant professor in Cornell’s Department of Theatre, Film, and Dance, will be drawing on her expertise in directing works by Molière and in improvisation in the manner of the commedia dell’arte, in addition to her Broadway and Los Angeles directorial experience.
Le Carnaval Mascarade is a co-production of the Eastman School of Music, the Cornell University Department of Music, and its Department of Theatre, Film, and Dance, with participation by the Genesee Early Music Society. For additional information on this production as well as biographical information, visit www.arts.cornell.edu/lully. Tickets for the Eastman production are $15, $10 and $5 with reserved seating. Call ticketmaster at 585-232-1900 or visit www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets also will be available for purchase at the Eastman School two weeks prior to the performance. Call the concert office at 585-274-1110 for further information. Cornell University tickets are $10 general admission and $5 for students, and can be purchased by phone at 607-273-4497, 800-284-8422, or on the web at www.ithacaevents.com. Prior to the Saturday performance, Steven Kaplan, the Goldwin Smith Professor of European History at Cornell will give a 7 p.m. pre-concert lecture at Barnes Hall, free to all ticketholders.
In fall 2004, Eastman will inaugurate a graduate program in early music, pending final approval by the National Association of Schools of Music and New York State.
Note: Photos and interviews with principal directors and performers are available.