Ear Supply: Renaissance Men

Opera's bawdy birth.

Four hundred years ago in Italy, as ways of combining music and drama into what we now know as opera were gestating, composers played freely with the available material. In secular theater, this meant the stock characters and slapstick of the commedia dell'arte, or gods and mythological figures borrowed from classical Greek theater. In secular music, the madrigal, a poem set for small vocal ensemble, was the most popular form. Instrumental accompaniment added ear-grabbing effects; dance brought eye-catching spectacle. The Early Music Guild and Seattle Theatre Group are bringing two of these early experiments to the stage this weekend: Orazio Vecchi's 1594 L'amfiparnaso is a comedy set as a cycle of sometimes-scurrilous madrigals, and in Claudio Monteverdi's 1608 Il ballo delle ingrate, Cupid, Venus, and Pluto warn scornful lovers what awaits them in the afterlife. It was the idea of Seattle Weekly alumnus Roger Downey to stage these successively—same cast, same set—and the resulting double bill has been dubbed A Day on the Town, a Night in Hell. It took an all-star lineup to make such disparate elements mesh: Donald Byrd did the choreography, Stephen Stubbs is in charge of the music, EMG's Theodore Deacon was tasked with translating Vecchi's bawdy puns in rhymed Italian into comprehensible English, and commedia specialist Arne Zaslove directs. (Downey calls him "the biggest expert in the Italian masked comedy in the U.S. today. When Cirque du Soleil wants to improve its mask work, they call Arne.") 

 
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