Jeannette Sorrell and the Cleveland-based Apollo’s Fire are touring with a semi-staged performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo, one of the very first operas ever composed, and what many think of as the first masterwork of the genre. They’ll be at Cal Performances on the 20th, and the Green Music Center‘s Weill Hall on the afternoon of Sunday the 22nd.
“It’s not only my favorite opera, but it’s probably one of my favorite pieces of music, period,” Jeannette Sorrell says.”And it’s really the piece that made me decide to become a baroque musician, because I fell in love with it when I was about 17.” It was written when opera as a form was in its infancy. “Monteverdi and his colleagues in Italy around that time (which was around 1600)… they were really consciously inventing a new style of music, and they were trying to recreate the emotional power that the ancient Greeks had in their tragedies and dramas.” They believed that those were presented either in song or chant, and so developed a new style of singing, often with simple plucked accompaniment. “It has that kind of singer-songwriter vibe to it,” she says, “Where it’s all about really the text and the message, and a very flexible, poetic approach to singing.” It was natural then, too, for the composers to turn to a Greek myth as the subject of the opera, especially one with the prototypical musician, Orpheus as its hero. “He was a demi-god, the son of Apollo, so half mortal, half-deity. And when his beloved bride is bitten by a snake and she dies, vows to go down to Hades and bring her back.” That role is sung by Karim Sulayman, who also is featured on the ensemble’s new release called Songs of Orpheus, that includes several arias from Orfeo.