Three Goddesses and the Next Great Tenor

Anyone not convinced that Chicago is a major player in the early music movement in the U.S. only needs to take a look at what is happening this weekend.  There is such an abundance of organizations and individuals specializing in the pre-Classical rep, that if you don’t plan carefully, you might miss something very special.

Following the success 2016’s inaugural Lenten Oratorio St. John the Baptist, Haymarket Opera Company presents Scarlatti’s Hagar and Ishmael in Exile.  Featured in the role of Hagar is mezzo-soprano Angela Young Smucker who has become a touchstone of high quality, historically informed performances including with the group she co-founded Third Coast Baroque.  Alessandro Scarlatti is a composer who is familiar to classically-trained singers through an anthology of romanticized baroque-era arias with piano accompaniment that are de riguer starter pieces.  Scarlatti’s operas and oratorios deserve full-scale exhuming as was been made evident by Haymarket’s delightful Gli Equivoci nel Sembiante.  The editor has given over full trust to the taste of Haymarket’s Artistic Director Craig Trompeter, especially if the material will be treated to Smucker’s truly deluxe tone quality and the heartfelt musicality with which she deploys it.  

The program notes for Haymarket’s Hagar and Ishmael trace the dedication of this oratorio to Queen Christina of Sweden. By coincidence, the pioneering ensemble The Newberry Consort continues its 30th anniversary season with a program detailing the musical history of the life of the eccentric Queen Christina. The Queen: Christina, The Girl King will include music by Lully, Carissimi, Corelli, and Cesti performed by a generous amount of continuo forces, violins, and early music royalty ­­– soprano Ellen Hargis. Many, if not all, of the early music specialists in Chicago have been influenced by the career of Hargis, either directly through her teaching, or by the path she and the Newberry Consort have forged –  both backward in scholarship and forward in performance practice.

Sarah Gartshore’s Herodias in St. John the Baptist ranked as one of VAC’s top performances of 2016.  The Editor remembers her performance to be comprehensive and thrilling. Oak Park’s Handel Week Festival concludes with the oratorio Alexander’s Feast with Gartshore as the featured soprano soloist.

Meanwhile, in “new” music, the outstanding tenor Charles Castronovo is getting his heart broken literally and figuratively as Lensky in Lyric Opera’s Eugene Onegin.  This production ties a neat bow around a Lyric season that has been a gift to lovers of great singing in audience-friendly operas.  Castronovo will be remembered for having been one of the last voices we heard but also one of the best.

In “more new” music, an upstart organization comprised of mostly Northwestern University alums and students called Chamber Opera Initiative presents “4 Chamber Operas” on Friday in Wilmette. They offer a rare chance to experience Hin und Zurück by Paul Hindemith, Das Mahagonny Songspiel by Kurt Weill, L'Enlèvement d'Europe by Darius Milhaud, and The Princess and the Pea by Ernst Toch ­– and likely the only chance to hear them all on the same evening. 

And in “very new” music, those handsome blokes of Constellation Men’s Ensemble will be performing all new or recently composed works in their program on Saturday.  NOVA: New Music Series takes place in one of the intimate studios at the Fine Arts Building and includes three world premieres.