|L’AMFIPARNASO: A Madrigal Comedy from 1594
Produced by THE WESTERN WIND ENSEMBLE
Written by Orazio Vecchi
Directed by Gama Valle
Four Performances Only:
Thursday, May 28th at 8:00pm,
Friday, May 29th at 8:00pm,
Saturday, May 30th at 8:00pm,
Sunday, May 31st at 8:00pm.
Venue: The West End Theatre (263 west 86th Street New York, NY 10024)
“Delightful…ensemble of five excellent madrigal singers!” – NYTimes
“The five voices…were utterly compatible, with a charming empathy of the spirit and style of this delectable nonsense. Western Wind needs to be seen to be heard.” — Daily News
L’AMFIPARNASO premiered in 1594 in Modena, just before the birth of opera, and represents an early version of the three-act comic opera form which later became standard. Each scene of the commedia dell’arte scenario is set in a five-voice composition, ranging from hilarious comic scenes to profoundly moving love duets and laments. Radical in its time, Vecchi’s innovation caused a row. He wrote to his critics, “Everything new faces accusations and insults… It is unavoidable: the highest mountains are most likely to be struck by lightning.” An inscription on his grave boldly states that “he was such a great musician and poet that he easily left behind all geniuses of all times” and that “he was the first to combine music with comedy”.
L’AMFIPARNASO is populated with traditional comic characters of the commedia including the elderly busybodies Pantalone and Dr. Graziano, the disobedient servant Pedrolino (a.k.a. Pierrot), the bold and swaggering Capitano and the lovers Isabella, Lucio, Lelio and Nisa. Its title, “L’Amfiparnaso,” is in itself a pun. It could mean “two by the nose,” referring to the two old foolish geezers, Pantalone and Dr. Graziano, who are made fun of in the piece or “on the steps of Parnassus.” Parnassus is the mountain in Greece that in Greek mythology was thought to be the home of the muses.
In the libretto, Panatalone, Pedrolino, Dr, Graziano, Francatrippa, and Capitan Cardon speak in their respective dialects: Venetian, Bolognese, Florentine and Spanish. The lovers Lucio, Isabella, Lelio and Nisa use the high Italian Tuscan dialect. The music is brilliant and subtle, and explores the psychological nuances and inter-personal relationships of the various characters. It alternates between the HighRenaissance madrigal form for the lovers’ duets and laments and more regional and folky styles for the comic characters.
In this production, the six singers of Western Wind Ensemble will interact with each other as they rotate in and out of the various characters. Two mimes will add a visual component, acting out scenes simultaneously with the music and participating in the “Argumenti,” or introductions, that precede each scene in the original script. While the score will be sung in its original Italian, the Argumenti will be performed in English. Supertitles will provide a simultaneous translation of the Italian dialects.
Western Wind first presented “L’Amfiparnaso” in 1971 at Westbeth in an un-staged chamber-music version with dramatic supervision by Steven Urkowitz, a Shakespeare scholar. The New York Times (Allen Hughes) called it “a delightful sample of the musico-literary entertainments that existed in Italy just before opera was born,” praising the ensemble’s keen understanding of the drama in the text and its mastery of the piece’s humor, dialects and changing moods.
In the 70’s and 80’s, Western Wind performed the work in New York City, Cleveland and some other American cities. They also presented it in Italy at the Como Autumn Festival, Teatro La Fenice in Venice and at various venues in the Veneto region. The ensemble performed the piece again in 2014 and is bringing it back this May by popular demand.
LaRepublica (Milano) wrote in 1980, “These American singers interpreted Vecchi’s madrigal comedy with great finesse. Above all they demonstrated a winning ability to communicate together with great vocal discipline and sense of style. And it did them no harm whatsoever that they are such delightful performers.” Reviewing a New York production in 1981, the New York Times called the production “a 16th century madcap revue, drawing on every vocal form of the period with exhilarating virtuosity. The dialects are handled with the confidence of natives, while the lusty dramatic spirit of the comic madrigal style comes across vividly.” The same year, The Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote, “They tossed off Vecchi’s seamless, flowing and intricate counterpoint as though it were the easiest kind of music in the world to sing, though it certainly must be among the hardest….the total effect on the listener is that of a constant stream of sunny and beautiful vocal sound.”
The production stars Linda Lee Jones, Michele Kennedy (sopranos), William Zukof (countertenor), Todd Frizzell, David Vanderwal (tenors) and Elliot Z. Levine (baritone) along with mimes Catherine Gasta and Alexander Reed.
The production features scenic design by Bradley Wehrle, costume design and stage management by Luis Santiago, and lighting design by Jason Fok.
L’AMFIPARNASO plays the following schedule:
Thursday May 28th, 8:00 pm- Preview performance, suggested donation
Friday May 29th, 8:00 pm- Regular Performance (Opening night)
Saturday May 30th, 8:00 pm- Regular Performance
Sunday May 31st, 3:00 pm- Regular Performance
Tickets are $40 and $25 (student/senior) are now available online at smarttix.com or 212-868-4444. Sponsor tickets are $75 and Patron tickets $150 at www.westernwind.org or 212-873-2828. Tickets may also be purchased in-person at the theater ½ hour prior to performance.
Running Time: 90 minutes