Melodious Musings on the Orchestra: AMADIGI DI GAULA and Sundays at St. James

Whenever I get the opportunity to actually sit and watch one of our operas, I love to sit in the balcony.  With only 550 seats in the Opera House, there really isn’t a “bad” seat anywhere; however, up in the balcony you get a nice overview angle of the stage, an easy perspective to read the supertitles (English translations above the stage), and a fun view of the Central City Opera Orchestra in the pit below the stage.

A Theorbo
Image from www.theorbo.com

This year’s production of Amadigi di Gaula has an instrument (well, two, actually) that can be seen from nearly every seat, whether you’re in the balcony or not.  That long-necked stringed instrument you see sticking up at the edge of the stage for this Baroque opera is a theorbo. We actually have two of them in the orchestra for this Händel opera, played brilliantly by guest artists Madeleine Owen and Matthew Wadsworth. According to www.theorbo.com, the theorbo is a type of lute which was developed in Florence during the 1580s, is around two meters in length, and typically has 14 courses of strings.

If you watch the musicians during Amadigi di Gaula (the orchestral music is so beautiful, you can’t help but try to see who’s producing it, in my opinion), you’ll notice several things. First, Matthew can sometimes be seen flipping through a book of what appear to be blank pages. Matthew is blind and has memorized his music (but can review it with his Braille score). There are even a few times where his is the first instrument to play a piece; during these moments, he listens closely for conductor Matthew Halls‘ breath as the cue to begin. Second, Madeleine can be seen switching occasionally to another Baroque instrument, the Baroque Guitar. In fact, several of the musicians switch instruments during this opera, as two recorders are used in this production. Yes, those fine instruments that play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” in elementary music programs are used to wonderful delight in this classical piece. From the balcony, you can see the musicians subtly play their own game of literal “musical chairs” between numbers, as Brian Cook and Sarah Bierhaus sit together when playing the recorder and then return to their original seats in the viola and oboe sections. Jeffrey Stephenson also spends a moment featured at the side of the orchestra for his beautiful oboe solo. Rounding out our guests artists for Amadigi di Gaula are harpsichordist Patrick T. Jones (who also prepared the music for this production) and Baroque cellist Kate Haynes.

St. James Methodist Church,
across the street from the Opera House

All said, the sounds coming from our Central City Opera Orchestra are simply exquisite. This year, we’re featuring the instrumentalists in one of our Fringe Festival events, the Sundays at St. James chamber music series. This Sunday, July 17th, the series kicks off with a wonderful evening featuring a Poulenc clarinet sonata, a Dvořák piano quartet and vocal music by
main stage artist Robert Gardner (baritone), who is performing in this summer’s productions
of The Seven Deadly Sins and The Breasts of Tiresias.

The following Sunday, July 24th, the series continues with world-renowned conductor Matthew Halls, the guest instrumentalists
(mentioned above) and principal vocal artists from this summer’s Amadigi di Gaula
performing the music of Henry Purcell. The final performance on July 31st
features the male classical vocal quartet New York Polyphony in
concert; two of the members — baritone Christopher Dylan Herbert and bass
Craig Phillips — were participants in Central City Opera’s Bonfils-Stanton Foundation Artists Training Program.

Christopher Dylan Hebert as Papageno in a scene from The Magic Flute
(Central City Opera’s Opera A La Carte, 2006)

Christopher was also featured in Martha Stewart Weddings for his recent marriage to partner Timothy Long. In addition to being incredibly photogenic, Christopher also happens to be the nephew of the crafty guru.

Image from Martha Stewart Weddings

All Sundays at St. James performances take place in the historic St. James Methodist Church, possibly the oldest church in Colorado. Tickets are $32 each (available online) or you can enjoy all three evenings of chamber music for just $68 (packages available through the Box Office at 303-292-6700).

Watch (and listen to) video clips of Central City Opera’s Amadigi di Gaula 

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