Wednesday 5 February 2020

Marco da Gagliano's La Dafne revived at BREMF

Marco da Gagliano - La Dafne - title page, 1608
The Florentine composer Marco da Gagliano (1582-1643) was there at the beginning of opera alongside Peri, Caccini and Monteverdi though Gagliano's operas today barely get name check. But the Brighton Early Music Festival is changing that with a brief out of festival appearance at the Old Market in Hove this weekend (four performances on 8 & 9 February 2020) performing Gagliano's opera La Dafne.

Marco da Gagliano spent most of his working life in Florence, writing music for the Medici, but he also made a trip to Mantua (there were links between the ruling families of the two cities and the Medici lent the Duke of Mantua singers for the 1607 performances of Monteverdi's L'Orfeo). Whilst in Mantua, Gagliano wrote La Dafne, a setting of a pre-existing libretto by Ottavioo Rinuccini which had originally been set by Jacopo Peri in 1597. Peri's La Dafne was the first work to be actually called an opera, the work is now lost apart from a handful of excerpts.

Contemporaries praised Gagliano's way of setting text as being close to speech, which was one of the aims of the Florentine Camerata where the musical experiments of the composers and aristocrats who were members led to the creation of opera, intended as a re-creation of Greek drama. Marco da Galiano's teacher, Luca Bati, was one of the original members of the Florentine Camerata.

Gagliano's La Dafne was written for the wedding of Prince Francesco Gonzaga of Mantua and Margherita of Savoy, a wedding which also gave rise to Monteverdi's lost opera L'Arianna. It seems that the Gonzagas certainly knew how to celebrate, and to spend money. The advantage of operas written for grand occasions was that, sometimes, having the work published was part of the showing off. We are lucky in this respect with Monteverdi's L'Orfeo and Gagliano's La Dafne whereas Monteverdi's L'Arianna, though wildly popular at the time, is now lost.

BREMF's performances of the opera will be staged by Thomas Guthrie and feature tenor Rory Carver (who sang the title role in Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at BREMF in 2017, see my review) and soprano Angela Hicks (who sang La statue in Rameau's Pygmalion at BREMF in 2017, see my review) plus Elspeth Piggott, Sebastian Maclaine and Geoff Williams, with the BREMF Early Opera Orchestra featuring musicians from BREMF Live!, music directors Deborah Roberts and Oliver Webber.

Full details from the BREMF website.

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