We have a tradition in our theatre…
For the last four years, Celos, aun del aire, matan the earliest surviving Spanish Baroque Opera has been running in repertoire at Moscow State Theatre Natalya Sats, with performances each month during the winter season. The performers are the soloists, chorus and orchestra of the Theatre, supported by members of Opera Omnia, the research, training and performance Academy for Baroque Opera and Dance. More about OPERA OMNIA here.
On the eve of the online broadcast – Friday 3rd April 2020, 19.00 Moscow time (5pm UK time: there is no summer time in Russia) on http://www.cultura.com and direct link to the opera broadcast here – this post is a slightly expanded version of the introduction I have given to live audiences at each show.
In most theatres, if someone walks on stage to speak before the show starts, it usually means bad news: a singer is indisposed, or whatever. But as a theatre for young people, we always welcome our audience with an informal greeting.
We have a tradition in our theatre to say a few words before the show begins. And so tonight it’s my pleasure to welcome you, on behalf of our Director Georgy Isaakyan, to Theatre Sats and to this performance of Celos, aun del aire matan (1660) translated into Russian by Katerina Antonenko as любовь убивает – Love Kills!
When we think of Baroque opera, we might first think of Handel and Vivaldi, but ‘opera’ began in Italy a hundred years earlier, and Monteverdi’s (1607) Orfeo and the very first opera, Cavalieri’s Anima & Corpo (1600) both run in regular repertoire in our Theatre – you will be very welcome at those shows too!
Tonight’s performance is different again – the earliest surviving Spanish Opera.
Calderón’s verse-drama draws on the strengths of Spanish spoken theatre, with a fast-changing combination of exquisite poetry, complex plot, powerful emotions and hilarious comedy. As in a Shakespeare play, romantic and tragic scenes are parodied by the antics of the comic characters. who also interact with the principal protagonists. Calderón weaves together two mythological stories, which his audience would already have known: the spectators’ pleasure came from appreciating how cleverly, beautifully, passionately and entertainingly those familiar stories were unexpectedly brought together.
The plot is dominated by the powerful figure of Diana, goddess of hunting and of chastity. One of her nymphs, Aura, has broken the rules by falling in love with Eróstrato.
His mythological destiny is to burn down the temple of Diana and – as a punishment – to have his name forgotten forever.
In the opening scene, another nymph, Pocris presents Aura to be judged and punished.
The hero of the opera is Céfalo, who arrives in the nick of time to rescue the damsel in distress. His servant, Clarín, is the anti-hero: he would rather flirt with a pretty girl than assist in any rescues.
Diana wants to know who left the garden gate open, allowing Aura and Eróstrato to meet. She cross-examines her maid-servant, Floreta, who lets slip that it was her husband, the gardiner Rustico‘s fault. In revenge [and revenge becomes a theme in this drama], Diana transforms Rustico into various different animals.
Aura escapes by being magically transformed into an airy spirit. And her revenge on Pocris is to make her fall in love (against Diana’s rules) with Céfalo. But Céfalo’s mythicological destiny is that he will kill his own wife.
Halfway through Act I, and again in Act II, Calderón helps and entertains his audience, by having a comic character – first Rustico, then Clarín – re-tell the story so far, each in their own comically-warped version. The interval in our show comes before Act III.
In that final Act, Diana takes three revenges for the burning down of her temple, despatching three Furies to destroy Eróstrato (who loses his humanity and runs like a hunted beast), Pocris (who loses her trust in Céfalo) and Céfalo (whose spear, stolen from Diana, kills Pocris).
But at the darkest moment, Aura reappears to avert Tragedy… And meanwhile, just as Rustico has come to understand that he is an animal, he regains human form, to his, Clarín’s and Floreta’s utter confusion, and for the audience’s gleeful delight!
Watch out for the motto-refrains that punctuate the action and colour each scene – these were ‘take-home messages’ for the 1660 audience. These are just some of them:
Ah, alas for the girl who makes it true that someone dies of love!
The aura of love softly inspires…
Hate does not erase love.
If the air causes jealousy, jealousy – even of the air – kills!
Hidalgo’s music is also characteristically Spanish, with strophic songs and syncopated dance-rhythms. The most important instruments are the continuo section of harps, percussion, organ, regal and baroque guitars. The guitar ensemble of different sizes and pitches – soprano, alto, tenor, bass – is the essential element of Spanish Baroque theatrical music, and the smallest and largest guitars (tuned an octave apart, in D) were specially built for this production at Theatre Sats. The Spanish Baroque harps are by master luthier Rainer Thurau.
The Theatre orchestra brings together modern strings, woodwind and trumpets with a consort of baroque sackbuts.
Hidalgo’s score calls for two choruses, who represent the Nymphs of Diana and the local Villagers, respectively.
You can download the original Spanish text (in the version performed in our production) and an English translation. A detailed synopsis of the plot, in English is here. The Theatre’s English language information page is here.
I wish you all a very enjoyable, and very Spanish, Baroque evening!