Shakespeare’s Dark Lady: Julianne Baird and Flanders Recorder Quartet at the 2011 Amherst Early Music Festival



Emilia Lanier



In 1995, David Lasocki published a history of the extraordinary Bassano clan, renowned both as instrument makers and as musicians; he also set out the case for the claim that Emilia Bassano (later Emilia Lanier) was the Dark Lady of Shakespeare's sonnets, the beautiful black-haired and dark-complexioned woman to whom sonnets 127-154 are addressed. Emilia was not only a striking Italian woman but also a distinguished poet in her own right so what better muse could Shakespeare have found?



All of which led the Flanders Recorder Quartet to imagine a show that would both dramatize the long history of the Bassanos and culminate in Emilia's encounter with Shakespeare. They then asked Larry Rosenwald to write them a script, which he did; this summer’s show will be that script’s first performance with renowned soprano Julianne Baird and Larry himself as narrator. It spans several centuries and cities; it moves from Italy to England and back again, from dark to light, from mystery through comedy and danger to love both enjoyed and renounced. It features both Shakespeare’s poetry and Emilia’s, with a few anachronistic quotations introduced here and there. It includes abundant instrumental and vocal music, high and low, far and near, early and late, Italian and English.  Fortunes are told, the high and mighty (including the Quartet and the narrator) are mocked, and a good time will be had by all.


It’s Italy, six hundred years ago;

 it’s dark; the clan appears . . .