Liveblogging: Vivaldi’s “Juditha Triumphans” from Venice (2015) on Friday


[Rehearsal footage from the 2015 production of Vivaldi’s “Juditha triumphans” with Manuela Custer (Juditha) and Teresa Iervolino (Holofernes), Venice/Fenice 2015. – Clip with thanks to the Fenice channel]

The Eye Bags Summer Festival continues on short notice with a full-on White Shirt event, last year’s “Juditha triumphans” from the Fenice, tomorrow, Aug. 19th,  at 9 p.m. (UTC+2).

All five parts of the work, three of them men, are, in this case, sung by women (Manuela Custer, Teresa Iervolino, Paola Gardina, Giulia Semenzato & Francesca Ascioti). There are mezzos and contraltos involved, and a whole female chorus to boot (the production was staged by Elena Barbalich, Alessandro de Marchi conducts the Fencie house orchestra). Just as God Vivaldi intended it to be (well, given that he wrote it for a girls’ boarding school, a scenario about as heternormative as the scissoring Mallory Towers).

Now this is my type of Olympics: Operatic Pentathlon! Featuring Coloratura, Vocal Swagger, Low Notes, Legato Pick-Up Lines and Overall Estrogen Highs.

The production is not on YouTube, but given that it was available via Culturebox for a long time and that most of you are queers with a penchant for White Shirts, you may likely have saved away a copy anyway. In case you don’t have one and would like to join the usual suspects in some Baroque White Shirt swooning, let us know and we will try to work something out beforehand.

6 thoughts on “Liveblogging: Vivaldi’s “Juditha Triumphans” from Venice (2015) on Friday”

  1. Bother! That link let me through but shows here as behind a paywall. So here’s the text, from the Financial Times:

    An all-female Vivaldi choir is raising the profile of women with deep singing voices
    Given the enormous enthusiasm for countertenors and, increasingly, male sopranos that has flourished in recent decades, it is surprising how little attention has been paid to the female vocal range. Of course, the trend has been largely dictated by the range of available repertoire. Opera companies and period ensembles, keen to emulate the sound of 17th- and 18th-century castrati, are now spoilt for choice of high male voices. Over the same period of time, true contraltos, considered by many to mark the lower limits of the female vocal range, appear to have all but disappeared.
    These deep, full-bodied voices have rarely been in fashion — traditionally associated with the least glamorous roles in opera and oratorio, and largely overlooked by contemporary composers — and there has never been much aesthetic interest or practical incentive in western classical music for women to sing any lower. That is, excepting one small corner of musical history: Vivaldi’s work during the early 18th century for the all-female choir at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, one of four charitable institutions that cared for the city’s destitute.
    More recently, this body of work has been given new life by the Oxford-based Schola Pietatis Antonio Vivaldi (SPAV), founded and led by Richard Vendome. The group evolved out of his work with the Oxford Girls’ Choir, and an attempt in 2005 to replicate the sound of the Pietà choir for a BBC TV documentary on Vivaldi, with women singing all parts, including tenor and bass. “We all know men have huge ranges,” Vendome says, “so it was just a no-brainer to me that women could do the same sort of thing.”
    One decade on, the choir’s influence over the study of 18th-century music remains modest but compelling, and this month it will showcase its talents in a concert at the London Festival of Baroque Music.
    Of central importance to SPAV’s activities is the work of Micky White, a researcher who moved to Venice in the late 1990s to devote her life to the study of Vivaldi and the Pietà. “There was so much confusion about the Pietà,” she says. “Some said it was a convent, some said it was a musical academy, so I thought: ‘OK, I’ll find out for myself’.” Her independent approach has yielded valuable information, which she published in 2013 in a book titled Antonio Vivaldi: A Life in Documents. “I have nothing to do with academics and musicians,” she says. “I’m a lone wolf.”
    White’s work has helped to clarify the role of the Pietà as a home for abandoned or unwanted children of both sexes. While boys would be taught trades, such as weaving or sail-making, girls would be encouraged to participate as singers and musicians, later having the option of marriage, or becoming nuns, or staying at the Pietà for the rest of their lives, which most of them chose to do. “In the past, people had written that all the singers were 18-year-olds, but I was allowed to see the death registers of the Pietà, which no one had seen, and I found that this wasn’t the case. Some were 18, but some were 74,” White says.
    She and Vendome have highlighted the role of certain individuals within Vivaldi’s choir, including “Anna dal Basso” and a number of singers described as “dal Tenor” to support their theory of low female voices over suggestions by others that the tenor and bass parts were played on instruments, or that these roles might have been transposed up an octave. But what about female tenors and basses today? Is it possible to train women’s voices to sing lower and lower — or are contraltos simply handed several packs of Gauloises?
    In fact, in a recent survey of 132 women between the ages of 14 and 80 Vendome found that about 20 per cent could sing in the tenor range and 2 per cent a bass down to F2 (the second F below middle C) or lower. SPAV singers are aided by the fact that pitch in 18th-century Venice was closer to today’s “concert” pitch and therefore more forgiving in the lower register than “baroque” pitch, which is now commonly used by period ensembles. “The other thing about Vivaldi is he doesn’t tend to go very high. His soprano parts, for example, are nowhere near as high as other people like Bach and Handel,” Vendome says.
    Margaret Jackson-Roberts, who sings bass for SPAV and has sung tenor in mixed choirs for many years, has a range of four octaves but is happiest in the tenor and bass ranges. In the BBC documentary, which is on the choir’s website, she sings the “Gloria Patri” from Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus along with a fellow tenor and contralto, and the effect is striking: her voice is mellow but powerful and richly textured. “My passaggio — or breaking point — is right across where altos usually stick, that’s D, E flat just above middle C, so going through it or above it or below it is easier. I find tenor much more agreeable, and I’m a curiosity as a bass, of course,” she says.
    SPAV has met resistance from those who object to the choir’s approach. “This does generate hate mail,” Vendome says. “Some quite famous musicians have accused me of virtually emasculating half the human race by daring to form a choir with women singing tenor and bass.” However, he explains the main problem seems to be opinions about taste and propriety.
    “There’s very much a culture, especially in western Europe, that it’s bad for women to sing low, that one of the aspects of femininity is to be able to sing high, so the tendency is to train people upwards,” Vendome says. “I’ve heard some very sad stories of women who’ve thanked me for my work, saying: ‘I’m now 65 and it’s too late for me but as a child I was told I was a growler, and told not to sing because I was spoiling it for the other children, but I now realise I simply had a naturally very low voice’.”
    This month’s concert, performed together with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, will sit within the festival’s wider theme of “Women in Baroque Music”. The programme will include the Dixit Dominus, as well as the first modern performance of Nicola Porpora’s Laetatus Sum, a piece that was written for the Pietà in 1742 shortly after Vivaldi’s death. Jackson-Roberts laments its lack of bass solos; it’s a problem she often encounters, though it has not stopped her exploring music written for male basses that is within the appropriate range.
    “About four years ago I did a piece from [Handel’s] Acis and Galatea, the poor old giant’s aria, in concert and people said ‘well, she’s belied her gender but we’re totally convinced by it’, so I thought: ‘There’s an opening here!’ ”
    She is inspired by the example set by mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and other women who have sung Schubert’s Winterreise. “I’m all for that — cross-dressing in musical terms — why not?”

    Liked by 1 person

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