LSO conductor Elliot Moore finds common threads in contrasting music
By Peter Alexander Oct. 17 at 1:20 p.m.
Some of the most interesting classical music programs include apparently contrasting pieces, and then find the common links between them.
For example, the next concert by the Longmont Symphony Orchestra, titled La commedia dell’arte (Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 19 and 20, in the Longmont Museum’s Stewart Auditorium), juxtaposes works by Mozart and Stravinsky, two composers of different eras and different aesthetics that we do not usually think of together. But LSO conductor Elliot Moore finds connections between the two.
The works are the Overture and three well-loved arias from Le nozze di Figaro (The marriage of Figaro) by Mozart; a little known concert aria by Mozart; and the full score of Stravinsky’s ballet Pulcinella. Moore will be joined by soprano Christie Conover, tenor Joseph Gaines, and bass Joshua South. The performance is part of the LSO’s chamber orchestra series at the Longmont Museum.
“I was very intentional about pairing Mozart with Stravinsky, and in particular this Stravinsky,” Moore says. But exactly how they fit together takes a little explaining, starting with the title of the program. Commedia dell’arte is a form of improvised comedy that originated in Italy in the 16th century and spread across Europe.
“It’s sort of the Saturday Night Live of the time,” Moore says. Taken from village to village and city to city by travelling troupes, it was often performed outdoors. Commedia performances relied upon stock characters, including scheming servants, foolish old men, naive lovers and know-it-all doctors.
The connection to Mozart is that his comic operas, including The Marriage of Figaro, were part of a tradition of Italian comic opera that went back to the commedia dell’arte. Figaro himself, for example, is a direct descendent of the commedia’s scheming servants.
Stravinsky’s score, based on music by the 18th-century composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi and others, was written for a ballet to be produced by the great Russian impresario Sergei Diaghilev. The ballet was a modern gloss on the commedia characters and situations, and takes its title from one of those characters, Pulcinella.
But Moore had other connections in mind, too. “The pairing has an Italian thread, obviously, but also it has this older, Baroque music thread,” he said. The Baroque connection is clear with Stravinsky, whose source was Baroque music. In the case of Mozart, the genre of opera, and many of the musical traditions of 18th-century comic opera—structure, character types, styles of arias, plot design—were developed in the Baroque period from the commedia tradition.
In Moore’s words, “Mozart took these Baroque ideas and concepts, through his music for the stage, and Stravinsky was inspired by Baroque music. These things in many ways are cyclical. They make comebacks.”
On the concert, Mozart’s arias will be sung by Conover. The three arias from Marriage of Figaro are among the musical highlights of the opera: Porgi amor (Grant, love, some comfort) and Dove sono (Where are the lovely moments), both sung by the Countess, and Susanna’s aria Deh vieni, non tadar (Oh come, don’t delay).
In Mozart’s day, operatic roles and their arias were written to suit the individual singers in the original cast. When another singer took a role in a later production, they often asked for a composer—and not necessarily the original composer—to write a new aria that suited them better.
Mozart wrote many such arias, including Voi Avete un cor fedel (You have a faithful heart). A brilliant aria for coloratura soprano, it was most likely written to be substituted in the opera Le nozze di Dorinda (Dorinda’s marriage) by Baldassari Galuppi.
Stravinsky composed Pulcinella in the years after World War I. In 1919 Diaghilev, for whom Stravinsky had written the modernist scores for The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring, approached the composer with a totally different idea: orchestrating the music of Pergolesi for a new ballet based on commedia dell’arte characters. At first Stravinsky rejected the idea, but eventually agreed to take a look at the music.
“I looked and I fell in love,” he wrote later. His approach to the music—much of it actually not by Pergolesi, as it turned out—was completely new and helped create the style known today as neoclassicism.
“I began by composing on the Pergolesi manuscripts themselves, as though I were correcting an old work of my own,” Stravinsky wrote. “I knew that I could not produce a ‘forgery’ of Pergolesi; at best, I could repeat him in my own accent. . . . The remarkable thing is not how much but how little has been added or changed.”
Stravinsky kept the melodies and the bass lines of the Baroque-era originals, but rewrote the inner parts and then orchestrated the music in his own style. The result is a hybrid that keeps the charm of the original melodies, but adds a tartness that is pure Stravinsky. When the composer was criticized for not respecting the classics, he replied, “you respect, but I love.”
The completed score, which calls for a small orchestra and three singers, was premiered in 1920 with choreography by the celebrated Russian dancer Léonide Massine, and with scenery and costumes by Picasso. The production was a popular and critical success, but today the ballet has faded from memory and only the music is still remembered.
“This is the first time I’ve brought Stravinsky to our stage,” Moore says. “I think Pulcinella is a wonderful choice for our audience to get to know Stravinsky. And what I think is so cool about this piece is that Picasso did the costumes.
“I just love that combination, Stravinsky and Picasso; it brings that period to life, for me.”
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La commedia dell’arte
Longmont Symphony, Elliot Moore, conductor
With Christie Conover, soprano; Joseph Gaines, tenor; and Joshua South, bass
Mozart: Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro (The marriage of Figaro)
Mozart: Three arias from Le Nozze di Figaro: “Porgi amor,” “Dove sono,” and “Deh vieni”
Mozart: Concert aria, Voi Avete un cor fedel
Stravinsky: Pulcinella (complete ballet music)
7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 19
4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 20
Stewart Auditorium, Longmont Museum