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Western Wind Ensemble to Perform at TNC, 6/6-8

Western Wind Ensemble to Perform at TNC, 6/6-8

To celebrate its 45th Anniversary, Western Wind Ensemble (www.westernwind.org), the internationally acclaimed vocal sextet, will perform the historically important but rarely heard "L'Amfiparnaso" by Orazio Vecchi at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., June 6 to 8. The piece is a madrigal comedy from 1594 that sets a commedia dell' arte scenario in the late 16th-century madrigal style. It might be the earliest musical comedy ever written. The singers, singing in Italian and various local dialects such as Venetian and Bolognese, will be joined by a master mime who will help bring the characters and action to life. The production is directed by Gama Valle.

"L'Amfiparnaso" premiered in 1594 in Modena, just before the birth of opera, and represents an early version of the three-act comic opera form which later became standard. Each scene of the commedia dell'arte scenario is set in a five-voice composition, ranging from hilarious comic scenes to profoundly moving love duets and laments. Radical in its time, Vecchi's innovation caused a row. He wrote to his critics, "Everything new faces accusations and insults... It is unavoidable: the highest mountains are most likely to be struck by lightning." An inscription on his grave boldly states that "he was such a great musician and poet that he easily left behind all geniuses of all times" and that "he was the first to combine music with comedy".

"L'Amfiparnaso" is populated with traditional comic characters of the commedia including the elderly busybodies Pantalone and Dr. Graziano, the disobedient servant Pedrolino (a.k.a. Pierrot), the bold and swaggering Capitano and the lovers Isabella, Lucio, Lelio and Nisa. Its title, "L'Amfiparnaso," is in itself a pun. It could mean "two by the nose," referring to the two old foolish geezers, Pantalone and Dr. Graziano, who are made fun of in the piece or "on the steps of Parnassus." Parnassus is the mountain in Greece that in Greek mythology was thought to be the home of the muses.

In the libretto, Panatalone, Pedrolino, Dr, Graziano, Francatrippa, and Capitan Cardon speak in their respective dialects: Venetian, Bolognese, Florentine and Spanish. The lovers Lucio, Isabella, Lelio and Nisa use the high Italian Tuscan dialect. The music is brilliant and subtle, and explores the psychological nuances and inter-personal relationships of the various characters. It alternates between the High Renaissance madrigal form for the lovers' duets and laments and more regional and folky styles for the comic characters.

In this production, the six singers of Western Wind Ensemble will interact with each other as they rotate in and out of the various characters. A mime will add a visual component, acting out scenes simultaneously with the music and participating in the "Argumenti," or introductions, that precede each scene in the original script. While the score will be sung in its original Italian, the Argumenti will be performed in English. Their translation is in process as of this writing.

Western Wind first presented "L'Amfiparnaso" in 1971 at Westbeth in an un-staged chamber-music version with dramatic supervision by Steven Urkowitz, a Shakespeare scholar. The New York Times (Allen Hughes) called it "a delightful sample of the musico-literary entertainments that existed in Italy just before opera was born," praising the ensemble's keen understanding of the drama in the text and its mastery of the piece's humor, dialects and changing moods.

In the 70's and 80's, Western Wind performed the work in New York City, Cleveland and some other American cities. They also presented it in Italy at the Como Autumn Festival, Teatro La Fenice in Venice and at various venues in the Veneto region. The ensemble has not performed the piece since the '80s and it has not been performed otherwise in New York in recent memory.

La Republica (Milano) wrote in 1980, "These American singers interpreted Vecchi's madrigal comedy with great finesse. Above all they demonstrated a winning ability to communicate together with great vocal discipline and sense of style. And it did them no harm whatsoever that they are such delightful performers." Reviewing a New York production in 1981, the New York Times called the production "a 16th century madcap revue, drawing on every vocal form of the period with exhilarating virtuosity. The dialects are handled with the confidence of natives, while the lusty dramatic spirit of the comic madrigal style comes across vividly." The same year, The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote, "They tossed off Vecchi's seamless, flowing and intricate counterpoint as though it were the easiest kind of music in the world to sing, though it certainly must be among the hardest....the total effect on the listener is that of a constant stream of sunny and beautiful vocal sound."

The singers are Linda Lee Jones, Michele Kennedy (sopranos), William Zukof (countertenor), Todd Frizzell, David Vanderwal (tenors) and Elliot Z. Levine (baritone). The mime is to be cast as of this writing.


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