A one-act opera for two singers and baroque orchestra
If you’ve always thought, as we are all inclined to think, that a Baroque Orchestra’s mission is to play music of the 17th and early 18th century to the exclusion of all others, NICHOLAS MCGEGAN and his PHILHARMONIA BAROQUE ORCHESTRA made it a point, on the Orchestra’s 25th year, to prove you wrong. Instead of resurrecting yet other pieces by composers long dead to celebrate the occasion, he went contemporary, breaking tradition by turning to JAKE HEGGIE, a star among America’s young composers of opera for a commissioned work.
HEGGIE gladly obliged – with a 40-minute long, one-act opera for two singers (libretto written by his friend GENE SCHEER) entitled TO HELL AND BACK, that explores the issue of spousal abuse. Seemingly very contemporary, the theme is in fact age-old, and as Heggie notes in this interview, was actually inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone (an offshoot of his and Scheer’s decision to retain an element of antiquity as a concession to the orchestra’s baroque tradition).
The piece world-premiered in the Bay Area in November 2006 as a semi-staged production, with acclaimed soprano ISABEL BAYRAKDARIAN and Broadway legend PATTI LUPONE in the lead roles, and received a second performance at the Ravinia Festival in June 2007. Obviously successful, the production validated MCGEGAN’s proposition: that a baroque orchestra’s lifeline is not necessarily dependent on composers of centuries past and that the baroque sound of period instruments can co-exist, indeed, breathe life into and splash colors across the aural canvas of a contemporary work. No question about it, the PHILHARMONIA BAROQUE ORCHESTRA has broken new ground.
TO HELL AND BACK is available as an MP3 DOWNLOAD.