Will She? Won’t She? Baroque Opera Re-enactment Reveals All

Heroine Hypermestra fingers the dagger she must use (shown: partial production in Prague). But will she do it? Find out at the Festival of Baroque Arts opera 'L'Ipermestra' at the Český Krumlov castle.

Heroine Hypermestra fingers the dagger she must use (shown: partial production in Prague). But will she do it? Find out at the Festival of Baroque Arts opera ‘L’Ipermestra’ at the Český Krumlov castle.

There are only 2 perfectly-preserved 18th-century opera theatres left in Europe. One is in Český Krumlov, and a ‘real’ Baroque opera takes to its stage Sept 19-21.

For three nights, the Hof-Musici Baroque Orchestra – in authentic costumes, make-up, and wigs, singing in Italian and playing authentic instruments – will perform Hasse’s L’Ipermestra. They’ll perform on the candlelit stage in front of classic Baroque scenery in the restored theatre at Český Krumlov’s castle.

L’Ipermestra, Johann Adolf Hasse’s 1744 opera seria, stars soprano Jana Dvořáková in the title role, with Veronika Mráčková Fučíková, mezzo, as Lynceus. Ivo Michl, bass baritone, is King Danaus. Ondřej Macek conducts the orchestra from the harpsichord, and Zuzana Vrbová directs.

In Hasse’s time, the romantic leads were typically portrayed by castrated male singers, but the Hof-Musici kindly uses female singers dressed as men, instead.

L’Ipermestra in a Nutshell: Suspend your modern skepticism and scroll back to ancient Greece: King Danaus, trying to outwit a prophecy, forced his 50 daughters to marry his enemy’s 50 sons. But he also commands the daughters to kill their bridegrooms on their wedding night. Hypermestra sees trouble ahead if someone as popular and wise as her new husband Lynceus is murdered. So the wise, loyal “sandwiched” wife-and-daughter must resolve the situation – with a happy ending. Watch video excerpt, below.

Hasse’s opera follows the strict opera requirements of the time: to steal the story line from Greek tragedy in the distant past. And to present two love stories involving four characters, with two happy marriages at the end.

Hasse’s re-created presentation for this 7th Annual Festival of Baroque Arts Český Krumlov is authentic right down to the rigid form alternating recitative and arias. It’s complete with traditional hand gestures — a finger pointed or bent, a frequent flourish of hands, a warning of crossed index fingers — almost like a well-mannered, very controlled pantomime.

Pity the Poor Audience of 1744

Lynceus

Lynceus

L’Ipermestra, like all opera seria of the time, was written upon the request of an imperial family to mark a special occasion – this one, the marriage of Princess Maria Anna (Maria Theresa’s little sister) in Vienna.

For more information, we turn to musicologist Dr Daniel Freeman, who explains, “The court operas in Vienna were indeed stuffy affairs that lasted for hours. They were for the court, not the public audience, and everyone would have to behave very correctly and pay close attention. As for the story, only virtue was allowed to triumph.”

Win a Free Hof-Musici/Hasse Opera DVD!
The 2012 live performance of the Český Krumlov performance of Hasse’s Enea in Caonia can be yours. Email your name to Opus Osm at editor@opusosm.com, subject: Caonia, before 12 noon, Mon, Sept 15 (Prague time). The name of one winner will be drawn and the DVD sent by regular mail. DVD running time, 100 min; with Czech and English subtitles; Format: 16.9 PAL, Region: Free.

He explains why: Before opera seria, public theatre opera in Italy had often emphasized racy sexual themes and a mix of comic and serious action. Then, reformers began permitting only comic intermezzos between the acts, when “a few laughs could be sneaked in, but often a ballet was inserted instead.”

This held on until after 1820, when operas began to have tragic endings, usually with someone dying.

The Český Krumlov performances of L’Ipermestra, though, have been shortened for the modern audience. The full libretto in side-by-side Italian and Czech helps the viewers keep up with the plot twists, as well as permitting a glimpse into the beautiful language of its creator, court poet Pietro Metastasio.

L’Ipermestra is at the Český Krumlov castle, evenings on Sept 19-21, with other chamber concerts during the weekend. An authentic Baroque fireworks display is set for Sept 20. – oo

Watch a short excerpt from the June 2014 performance at the Lobkowicz Palace, Prague, with Elpinice (Olga Vít Krumpholzová) and Hypermestra (Jana Dvořáková):

Musicologist Dr Daniel Freeman, who contributed to this article, is the author of the book Mozart in Prague, available through the Opus Osm eshop. – Mary Matz, Opus Osm editor

Photo Credits: Photos and video: Miroslav Setnička

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