1702 Singballett from Sondershausen

Dorothy Olsson and Kaspar Mainz write about their reconstruction for Amherst Early Music Festival 2012 of part of a performance of a Sing-Ballett (a ballet with singing) from early 18th century Germany. The excerpts will be produced with singers and the festival Oboe Band on Saturday, 14 July. 

On January 6, 1702, the birthday of Prince Christian Wilhelm of the Schwarzenburg-Sondershausen family was celebrated in a most festive fashion, with the performance of a "Sing-Ballett." The basic source document "Entwurff Der Ordination Von dem Sing-Ballett und der Illumination" ("Design of the arrangement of the Sing-Ballett and of the decoration") (1702) has a moving, almost mystical history. While the largest part of the Sondershausen archive burned in the early 20th century, this document survived in a concealed room. It also prevailed over looting of artistic works in the period following World War II. After its re-discovery in the 1950s, an order was given for its destruction, as a symbol of feudal decadence and exploitation. However, it was secretly hidden by an advocate for the arts and was therefore saved once again.

The libretto describes very precisely the scenery and the costumes of the Sing-Ballett. A further distinction is that the work was not created for a theater stage, but rather for a festival hall. This hall still exists today, in its original state, in the Sondershausen castle.

The vocal and dance pieces are named with German, French and Italian titles. A few can be easily identified (for example: "Aimable Vainqueur"), yet most of the other pieces need further research and reconstruction.

The Sing-Ballett is one of the rare preserved baroque sources of its type and time from Thuringia, Germany, and we are very excited about bringing this piece to light. At the Amherst Early Music Festival in 2012, we hope to recreate much of the original spirit of this 1702 production, based on research around the evidence presented in this libretto and using music and dance choreographies of the period. This would be the first performance of this production in over 300 years!