Welcome to the production blog for the Yale Baroque Opera Project’s Erismena. My name is Jessica, and I am assistant directing this production. I’m so excited to be a part of this process and to have the chance to explore this 17th century Italian opera.
This production blog is meant to offer a backstage look at the process of creating and performing Erismena. There will be interviews with the cast and designers, rehearsal footage, and much more!
For the past couple of months, the cast members have been working tremendously hard, uncovering the text and immersing themselves in the music. Before rehearsals start in April, each cast member has attended weekly coaching sessions with Grant. This part of the process has focused on taking apart the text and trying to discover every nuance and motivation embedded within the music as a starting point for dramatic action. Last week, we had our first run-through of the music with the entire cast. It is clear that their hard work is paying off, and I’m extremely excited to watch as the show continues to grow throughout March and April. Now, the cast is focusing on memorization - because once the text is memorized, we can begin to play!
Each week, we’ve also been focusing on various topics pertaining to the history and traditions of 17th century Italian opera. It is essential to think of the libretto as a piece of poetry. Two primary features define Italian poetry - the syllable count and the rhyme scheme. Long lines are typically 11 syllables (or ten if the final syllable is accented) and short lines are 7 syllables (or 6, if the last syllable is accented). While there is not a traditional rhyme scheme, the different lengths are used to develop momentum within the music.
There is also a language of gesture for Italian opera. Certain gestures are directly tied to certain emotions or actions. In 17th century opera, these gestures were used to heighten the text, illuminating the story through the body and the voice. Some examples of such established gestures include: Supplico - Entreat, Ploro - Weep, Minor - Threaten, Affevero - Declare emphatically, Adoro - Adoration, and many more. As the production begins rehearsal, we will all be working to embed some of these traditional gestures into our own production.
A good deal of time has also been dedicated to grappling with this immense, sweeping, charming, challenging text. Erismena was written by Cavalli in Italian, but our opera will be in English. How does translation affect the integrity of the libretto? We’ve spent many weeks uncovering the nuances within our translated text - exploring repetition, noticing the role of musical ornamentation to reveal character, and uncovering the intentions and objectives of each character. Our translation is remarkably similar to the original libretto, as has been revealed through side-by-side comparison. This presents some challenges, but is also very rewarding as we are creating a production that is as close to Cavalli’s original work as possible.
That is all for now. This is only the beginning of a very exciting journey! We hope you continue to check back in as rehearsal footage and interviews are posted!