Boston Baroque to Premiere Handel’s Amadigi di Gaula

Boston Baroque, the first permanent Baroque orchestra in North America, has been called “one of the world’s premier period-instrument bands.” Since the group’s founding by music director Martin Pearlman in 1973, it has explored most corners of the early music repertoire. Pearlman’s ensemble has brought to light numerous underperformed works and even many that had been previously unknown.

This season’s offerings focus mainly on a selection of better-known works, including Handel’s Messiah and Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610. (Next year will be the work’s 400th anniversary.) However, the season opens with the Boston premiere of the rarely performed Handel opera Amadigi di Gaula, directed by Paul Peers. This 1715 work, composed after Handel’s arrival in London, was popular after its premiere and enjoyed revivals in the following seasons. Scholars believe that this was due to the celebrity of the castrato Nicolini in the title role. After this initial success, the opera laid dormant until 1929 and then again until 1968.

Amadigi is one of Handel’s five “magic” operas. This sub-genre of opera seria refers to operas that take place in a fantastical realm where at least one of the characters possesses supernatural powers. Such operas often require sophisticated machinery to manipulate rather elaborate sets. Though the plot of Amadigi does lend itself to such complications, it does not require the pyrotechnics of Handel’s better-known Alcina. Another notable characteristic of this opera is its size. Amadigi is Handel’s smallest scale dramatic work, with only four principal roles, plus a small chorus near the end. Considering this, Boston Baroque’s two-performance run at Jordan Hall on October 16th and 17th will be semi-staged.

The plot of Amadigi is also not nearly as intricate as other magic operas of the time. The knight-errant, Amadigi, and the prince Dardano are both in love with Oriana, but Oriana is in love with Amadigi. Conflict heats up when the sorceress Melissa, also in love with Amadigi, begins casting spells on her would-be lover in order to win his affections. Though Melissa initially comes across as merely an antagonist, Handel’s development of her is widely considered to be a study of a woman scorned.

As Handel called for all high voice types for the principal roles, these performances feature all women, except for the Canadian countertenor Matthew White singing the role of Dardano. Mr. White is becoming well-known in Boston, having held previous engagements with the Handel and Haydn Society as well as the Boston Early Music Festival. The soprano Leah Wool, whose repertoire spans from Bach to Stravinsky, will sing the title role, and Ava Pine, a coloratura who has been described as having “sheer vocal beauty, ease, and eloquence” will sing the role of the sorceress, Melissa. Soprano Mary Wilson, who returns this season for Vespers of 1610, will sing the role of Oriana.