The Bloomington Early Music Festival comes for its fifteenth year bearing musical gifts ranging from solo sessions to chamber pieces, works for larger ensembles and a full fledged opera. There are plenty of performances and this year the increased emphasis on education has spawned a wide variety of free educational sessions with the artists.
The most ambitious work of this year’s BLEMF is their opening piece, a lavishly mounted production of Alessandro Scarlatti’s most successful opera “Tigrane.” I got to sit in on the final dress rehearsal. The libretto was by a noted embezzler and plagiarist Domenico Lalli. Lalli, didn’t plagiarize this one, but he did keep up his nefarious ways. He sold the libretto to both Scarlatti and Albinoni. It’s a tale of vengeance, heroism, and the tension between new love and old loyalty. Things eventually get sorted out, but only when we find that the hero, Tigrane, beloved by the Queen Tomiri is actually her long lost son. It’s that sort of story. In contrast with the high drama of the principals there is a comic sub plot with a couple of servants who get to play a scene of commedia del arte characters to punctuate each of the opera’s three acts. Singing throughout is of a very high and accomplished caliber.
The Bloomington Early Music Festival production of “Tigrane” offers a twenty piece orchestra with strings, two oboes, two harpsichords, an early example of the use of horns, trumpet, and two large lutes. Variety and transparency are the watch words for the orchestra. There are sections that feature each of the instrumental groups. One of the lute players adds the percussive effects of baroque guitar for some parts. The accompaniment is stripped down enough that you’ll actually be able to clearly hear some of the other lutenist’s continuo work. A viola d’amore with its wirey sound appears briefly for just one aria.
The stage director for Tigrane is dance and movement specialist Paige Whitley-Bauguess. She’s choreographed several large dance segments that are just complex enough to be interesting without over stressing the cast. Her efforts with period movement as they clearly focus the action and express character are always evident. You can also see some of the dance segments that are built on martial arts exercises. And she even contributes a couple of fleet footed solo pieces.
“Tigrane” plays Friday the 16th at seven-thirty and Sunday the 18th at two in the Buskirk Chumley Theatre. It’s in Italian with supertitles. Saturday afternoon at three there’s a free session titled “The Scoop on Scarlatti’s “Tigrane” at the theatre.