On June 3rd, the New York-based Baroque company Musica Nuova will present Monteverdi’s Il Ballo delle Ingrate in a production that originated at Amherst Early Music in 2002. Co-creator Lawrence Rosenwald describes the origins of Ballo and previews the upcoming performance.
There’s a story, there are several stories, about the original production of this version of Monteverdi’s Ballo delle ingrate, for Amherst Early Music in 2002. One has to do with AEM director Marilyn Boenau’s brilliant and generous idea to make the theater project a central feature of the Baroque Academy; all of a sudden we were working with the renowned faculty and talented students of that Academy, and that was exhilarating. Among those faculty was Andrew Lawrence-King, the extraordinary harpist and conductor (and singer, and keyboard player, and sailor, and who knows what else?), who chose the Ballo in the first place.
The Ballo is a great piece, but presented two problems: it’s too short (some 30 minutes), and its guiding idea – that women have to yield to men’s erotic desires or be damned to hell and punished everlastingly – is loathsome. Grant Herreid, who was on board as stage director, came up with a great idea that solved both problems: create a frame story for the piece, a frame story that would a) allow for the introduction of some of Monteverdi’s other great music, and b) allow us to talk back to the moral of Monterverdi’s tale. (Knowing that some readers hate spoilers, I’ll hold back on further details about just what the frame story was.) Dorrie Olssen and I proposed some modifications to Grant’s idea, and I wrote speeches for the various characters, some to narrate and some to characterize. The performance went very well; two amazing features of it were the foundation-rocking low Cs and Ds of the singer performing Pluto, and the hallucinogenic, half scary and half comic mouth of Hell that Grant created for the stage set. Amanda Keil, the animator of the present production, played – beautifully, heartrendingly – a damned soul in torment.
After every AEM production I’ve been involved in, those who’ve been involved with it sit around and say, “that was great, but can’t we do it again?” Then, usually, we have another beer and don’t, in the end, do it again. But Amanda had the nerve and the tenacity to make that post-performance wish come true. We got to rethink the story, I got to rewrite the speeches, Grant got to rethink the staging, we got a new and fresh and brilliant cast. The performance will, as I hope and believe, again go very well; and it will be a tribute not only to Amanda’s vision and tenacity, but also to the creative energy of Amherst Early Music. Now if only some tenacious person would like to revive, say, our production of Campra’s L’Europe Galante . . . .
Musica Nuova presents Il Ballo delle Ingrate and the Herreid-Rosenwald-Olssen Monteverdi pastiche on June 3 at (Le) Poisson Rouge in Greenwich Village, New York. Tickets are available at www.lprnyc.com.