This summer, countertenor Anthony Roth Costanzo, a “bona-fide star” (New Yorker) of the Metropolitan Opera, Berlin Philharmonic, Lyric Opera of Chicago, San Francisco Opera, English National Opera, Canadian Opera Company, LA Opera, and Glyndebourne, returns as one of twelve curators to Brooklyn’s artist-led National Sawdust (NS), where he will present and perform in a radical reimagining of Handel’s dramatic cantata Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, a co-production of National Sawdust and San Francisco’s Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale (led by conductor Nicholas McGegan). Renowned director Christopher Alden, whose decades-long career has spanned the globe and who won an Olivier Award for his staging of Handel’s Partenope at English National Opera (later revived at both San Francisco Opera and Opera Australia), makes his National Sawdust debut with Aci.
Thanks to its intimate scale, multimedia expertise, and proven ability to attract a new, younger audience, NS is exceptionally well-adapted for cutting-edge, experimental approaches to the operatic canon. Last spring, NS curator Costanzo premiered Orphic Moments, a fully-staged production pairing a new Matthew Aucoin cantata with Gluck’sOrfeo ed Euridice and linking the two with a banquet. The New York Times welcomed it as, “a vivid new spin on operatic performance,” and Costanzo brings the same spirit of innovation to this summer’s Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, as well as a cast and crew of operatic luminaries more frequently showcased by larger venues. Christopher Alden’s production finds parallels between Handel’s 18th-century telling of Ovid’s mythological tale and our current Trumpian era defined by power, class, and the brutality of thwarted desire. He leads the audience into the darkly Strindbergian and Genet-esque realm of Handel’s taut and timely music drama. Innovative video design will create multi-dimensional visual landscapes that interact with the sound world, while recits will be re-imagined with a fourth instrument added to the continuo: technology.
Alden’s vision is enhanced by composer and sound designer Mark Grey’s creative use of video and audio technology provided by Meyer Sound. Grey’s work has been heard at key venues around the world, from Carnegie Hall and the Museum of Modern Art to London’s Barbican and the Sydney Opera House. Cath Brittan, whose credits include work with John Adams, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Cal Performances, co-produces with Costanzo and NS; costumes are by Terese Wadden, sets by Paul Tate dePoo III, lighting by Jax Messenger and dramaturgy by Cori Ellison.
Written for a 1708 wedding in Naples, Handel’s rarely-staged serenata is only 90-minutes, but packs all the punch of a Handel opera. Costanzo sings Galatea opposite sopranoAmbur Braid as Aci, whose performances boast “the trifecta of crystalline high notes, blissfully graceful vocal cadenzas and deep emotional intensity” (Toronto Star). Bass-baritone Davóne Tines – hailed as a “singer of immense power and fervor” (Los Angeles Times) – sings the role of Polifemo. Anchoring National Sawdust’s four performances ofAci, Galatea e Polifemo is the newly-minted period instrument ensemble Ruckus, making its debut under the leadership of bassoonist Clay Zeller-Townson, who regularly performs with Tafelmusik, the Trinity Baroque Orchestra, and Boston Baroque.
Courtney Beck, Executive Director of the co-commissioning Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra & Chorale, says about the new production: “PBO is a nimble, historically-informed ensemble, tackling projects from rarely-performed Baroque works to new music. We formally launched our New Music for Old Instruments Initiative in 2017 in an effort to produce, commission, and perform new and reimagined works written expressly for period-instruments. Music Director Nicholas McGegan is committed to teaching audiences how old music influences new music, and to support the work of today’s extraordinary composers, directors and designers. As one of the foremost experts on Handel, Nic is incredibly excited aboutAci.”
This past year, PBO presented Rameau’s fully-staged opera Le Temple de la Gloire, the first time this version was performed since 1745, and commissioned two works from Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw. In October of 2017, PBO will present the U.S. premiere of The Judas Passion by Sally Beamish, a first-time co-commission of PBO and London’s Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, which will be paired with Telemann’s Tafelmusik, Suite No. 1 in E minor. Three additional commissions are scheduled to premiere in the next two years.