Kat of the Musicals

Pinchgut Opera do some really unique and quality productions. They’re the best if you’re looking for a rarely performed opera!

The interview was originally posted on Arts on the AU.

Bajazet is one of Vivaldi’s most passionate and powerful operas and yet, despite enjoying great success around the time of its premiere in Verona 1735, this Baroque masterpiece is now very rarely performed. Now Pinchgut Opera is bringing Bajazet back to life, much to the credit of efforts of Artistic Director Erin Helyard, who hunted down the score of the 18th century opera and spent many long hours transcribing and editing the score for their latest production. the AU review caught up with Erin to discuss his efforts and what audiences should expect from this rare gem of an opera.

You personally spent a great deal of time hunting down the score and transcribing Bajazet for this performance, what are you hoping audiences will experience as a result?

That’s right! Even photographing the score took hours. Audiences will experience the crème-de-la-crème of the best baroque operatic talent (4 Australians, 1 New Zealander, and an American) in a performance of one of the finest pasticci of the eighteenth century.

Did you have a particular motivation for selecting Bajazet?

The Racine play has always fascinated me and it was an immensely popular libretto in the eighteenth century. I’m always interested in operas and stories that were once incredibly popular – in that respect Pinchgut has produced Vivaldi’s Griselda (one of the most set opera libretti of the time) and Cavalli’s Giasone (the most performed opera of the seventeenth century). Bajazet was set almost twenty four times by different composers over the course of the eighteenth century. I think the Vivaldi setting is very powerful.

The opera is described as having “vocal fireworks and melting moments of pure beauty” which sounds rather intense! What creates these such moments and how do you attempt to depict them on stage?

Vivaldi is one of the greatest opera composers and Thomas and I use all our operatic experience in helping the cast draw out these moments.

Bajazet is rarely performed now despite being an immense success in its day, why do you think that is so?

I think that it is only by circumstance that we don’t stage Vivaldi’s Bajazet very much. Opera companies are often afraid of unknown works – but Pinchgut isn’t!

For Bajazet Vivaldi borrowed/reused several arias for his work. Is that common in the operas that you stage and what do you think of the practice?

No, Pinchgut has never staged a pasticcio and I’m looking forward very much to seeing how our audience will react to Vivaldi’s work. Bajazet consists mainly of Vivaldi’s own material – 9 arias and all the recitatives are by the Venetian master, the remaining 6 were chosen carefully and adapted by Vivaldi from the operas by composers Geminiano Giacomelli, Johann Adolf Hasse, and Riccardo Broschi (Farinelli’s brother).

At the time, it was common for singers to have Arie di bagaglio or ‘suitcase arias’, which they brought with them to each production in order to try and force their favourite repertoire into already existing operas. Bajazet is by no means a casual jumble of arie di bagaglio, but a finely curated and crafted assortment of extraordinary arias.

For the 1735 Verona Carnival season in which Bajazet premiered, Vivaldi did not resort to a haphazard collection of the arie di bagaglio of the cast, rather, he chose to adapt from the works of the latest Neapolitans in order to better characterise the characters of Tamerlano and Irene, specifically.

In 2011 you staged another Vivaldi, Griselda. How do the two operas compare?

Griselda is a slightly later and more mature work, but Bajazet does not pale in comparison. They are completely different works.

Pinchgut Opera sets itself apart by rediscovering baroque and early classical opera masterpieces with which to breathe new life. What is your aim in doing so?

I find that opera companies tend to keep to a small and repetitive core of nineteenth-century works in order to maintain their precarious existence. Pinchgut is about taking risks and giving audiences new musical and visual experiences in showcasing this treasure trove of repertoire.

And finally, do you have a favourite Opera that you would love to produce?

I have too many operas in mind to pick just one!

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