The Fortunes of King Croesusby Reinhard Keiser
Sung in German with English captions projected above the stage.
This season's big American premiere is a 297-year-old masterpiece that reminds us that money doesn't buy happiness. Composed by a contemporary of Handel, this German Baroque opera is a bittersweet and twisting tale of love and conquest where all is right in the end. The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra joins The Minnesota Opera in presenting this long-overdue premiere, starring British tenor Paul Nilon as Croesus.
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Dates + Performancesat Ordway. Get directions
King Croesus of Lydia is placated by the love of his subjects, the protection of his warriors and a vast trove of gold, but the philosopher Solon cautions that one’s fate may change at any time. Elmira is well aware of Solon’s prophecies, for her own country of Media was overrun by the aggressive Persian King Cyrus. She has sought refuge in Croesus’ court and has fallen in love with his son Atis, so she confides in her servant Trigesta. Atis returns her affection in kind, but he is not the only one. The ambitious prince Orsanes also desires Elmira and doesn’t understand her convictions – Atis is, in his eyes, the lesser man, unable to speak since birth and forced to communicate with body language.
After Atis and Elmira share a tender moment, it is soon discovered that another Lydian prince, Eliates, loves Elmira’s confidante, Clerida, who in turn desires Orsanes. The three try to sort out the impossible situation while the court jester Elcius, ever the commentator, mocks their desperation – all he needs is a jug of good wine to be content.
Croesus receives news that Persia has broken the peace and its troops are encroaching upon Lydian soil. The king gathers his soldiers and places Eliates in charge of the country during his and Atis’ absence, an action which torments Orsanes.
Croesus’ army engages Cyrus on the battlefield. The Lydian king is captured, news of which shocks Atis into speaking for the first time. Cyrus gloats over his captive, but a newly wise Croesus warns that overbearing pride may be Persian’s undoing.
Near the battlefield, Halimacus discloses to Atis his suspicions that Orsanes may be planning a political coup. Atis decides to disguise himself as a servant in order to discover more about the plot. The courtiers may notice a resemblance, but as it is widely known Atis cannot speak, the ruse should be effective.
Back at court, Elmira, Clerida and Orsanes continue to unravel their complicated entanglement. Eliates bemoans the weight of leadership, while Orsanes quietly notes that governing isn’t for everyone. The Lydians are suddenly informed of their failure and their king’s capture. Eliates rallies into service every able-bodied man.
Halimacus presents to Elmira “Ermin” (really Atis), a rather well-spoken servant her lover has sent. Elmira is immediately conflicted – should she feel joy at seeing Atis’ likeness or sorrow over his absence. Eliates announces that half of the nation’s wealth will be given as ransom for the king’s release. An overly concerned “Ermin” asks why all the wealth is not handed over to save the king, drawing rebuke from Orsanes – it is, after all, none of his affair.
Ermin decides to use his deception to test the constancy of his lover and brazenly begins to court her. Elmira’s heart is divided – she finds herself equally attracted to this exact replica of Atis and finds his use of speech compelling.
Orsanes spots an opportunity to use Ermin to his advantage. He first suggests that the servant reappear at court dressed as Atis, and pretending to be dumb, indicate his unsuitability to rule. Ermin counters that this would be contrary to the prince’s wishes, and anyways, “Atis” is scheduled to arrive that very day. Orsanes then commands the slave to slay Atis, take his place and then renounce his claim to the throne. Ermin quietly simmers over Orsanes’ treachery.
At the Persian camp, Elcius tries to sell his wares. Croesus laments his desperate situation while Cyrus gloats over his conquest.
Orsanes delights in the apparent success of his plan as Ermin, now dressed in princely clothes, confirms the “execution” of Atis. Elmira is pleased to be reunited with him, and he returns her love, which irks the still-smitten Orsanes. Eliates reports that Cyrus has rejected any peace offer and intends to conquer Lydia. He calls the people to arms.
Back in his peasant garb, Atis/Ermin continues to pursue Elmira, who remains troubled. She claims they cannot be together because of the difference in their social rank. Orsanes steals a private moment with Ermin, deriding both his refusal to cede power and his love for Elmira, but the “servant” will not be dissuaded. Encountering Elmira again, Ermin shows her a letter, written in Atis’ hand, giving permission for her and the peasant to be together.
Elcius half-jokingly woos Trigesta, and tries to sell her a special substance that will restore her youth. Meanwhile, Elmira and Clerida are frustrated by their romantic lives and vow never to love again. Atis appears and confirms the contents of his letter. When she scorns him, he speaks for the first time, to Elmira’s dismay. She is furious at being so deceived.
Back at the Persian camp, Croesus is about to be burned at the stake. The fire is lit, but then immediately extinguished by a sudden storm. When the flame is rekindled, Croesus’ court appears and is alarmed by the frightful sight. Atis offers to be executed in his place, and faced with Cyrus’ doubt over his true parentage (because the prince is known to be mute), he tries to throw himself on the pyre. Croesus recalls Solon’s sage advice, and as the philosopher reiterates how the wheel of fortune is forever turning, Cyrus’ heart is moved, for his luck could change at any time. Croesus is released, Atis’ true identity is revealed to all, Orsanes’ duplicity is forgiven and Atis and Elmira are finally united.
The Creative Team
Conductor . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Harry Bicket
Stage Director . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tim Albery
Choreographer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Tim Claydon
Set and Costume Designer . . . . . . . . . . Leslie Travers
Lighting Designer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Thomas C. Hase
Wig Master and Makeup . . . . Tom Watson & Associates
Setting: the kingdom of Lydia
The Lydian court
Croesus, king of Lydia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Paul Nilon
Atis, son of Croesus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Vale Rideout
Halimacus, confidant of Atis . . . . . . . . . . . . Alan Dornak
Orsanes, in love with Elmira . . . . . . . . . .Brian Leerhuber
Clerida, in love with Orsanes . . . . . . Jamie-Rose Guarrine
Eliates, in love with Clerida . . . . . . . . . Christian Reinert
Elcius, a bon viveur . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Dan Dressen
The Medians in exile
The Queen of Media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Marcia Aubineau
Elmira, her daughter . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Susanna Phillips
Trigesta, lady-in-waiting to Elmira . . . . . Andrea Coleman
Cyrus, king of Persia . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .Carlos Archuleta
A Persian captain . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . John David Boehr
Solon, a Greek philosopher . . . . . . . . . . Christopher Job
Music by Reinhard Keiser
Libretto by Lucas von Bostel after Creso by Niccolò Minato in an edition by Tim Albery and Harry Bicket
World premiere at the Theater am Gänsemarkt, Hamburg 1711 (revised version: December 6, 1730)
Carlos Archuleta (Cyrus)
Last season, he appeared with New Orleans Opera in the title role of Le nozze di Figaro, Boston Lyric Opera as Sharpless, Tulsa Opera as Escamillo, The Minnesota Opera as the Count in Le nozze di Figaro and Lake George Opera as Marcello. This season includes notable debuts with the New York City Opera as Escamillo and the Cincinnati Opera as Alvaro in Florencia en el Amazonas, and return to The Minnesota Opera as Cyrus in The Fortunes of Croesus. In 2009, he will make a notable debut in London at the Royal Albert Hall as Escamillo.
On the concert stage, Mr. Archuleta has performed, Bach’s Cantata BWV 82: “Ich habe Genug,” Mendelssohn’s Elijah, Handel’s Messiah and the Bach Magnificat, as well as numerous performances of the Brahms Requiem with such organizations as the American Festival of Microtonal Music, Masterworks Chorale, Paul Madore Chorale, Salem Philharmonic, Pro Musica Chorus and Boston Pro Musica Chamber Orchestra. He has also appeared as the baritone soloist in Nielsen’s Symphony No. 3 (Sinfonia Espansiva) with the Minnesota Orchestra and appeared with the Nashua, New Hampshire Symphony, Boston Vocal Artists, Choral Arts Society of Massachusetts, Minnesota Symphony, Santa Fe Pro Musica, the Highlands Orchestra of New Mexico and has performed Mahler’s Die Kindertotenlieder in New Mexico. He has also been a guest artist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Affiliated Artist Recital Series, performing the role of Coyote in the new operatic work of Charles Shadle Coyote’s Dinner. Also, he was pleased to premiere a song cycle by the same composer especially written for him using text by the New Mexican poet Jim Sagel. Last season, he appeared as the baritone soloist in Carmina burana with the Asheville Symphony and with the North Arkansas Symphony.
Mr. Archuleta is a native of New Mexico.
John David Boehr (Persian Officier)
A baritone from Dallas, Texas, John Boehr graduated from Baylor University in 2005, earning a Bachelor of Music degree in vocal performance. Mr. Boehr performed numerous roles with the Baylor Opera Theater, including Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, Belcore in L’elisir d’amore, Giovanni Belleti in Libby Larson’s Barnum’s Bird and Papageno in The Magic Flute. For Palm Beach Opera he played Dandini in La Cenerentola, Second Priest in The Magic Flute and Sciarrone in Tosca. During the summer of 2005 he sang Masetto in Don Giovanni for the Tanglewood Music Center, and for these last two summers has been a young artist with the Santa Fe Opera. Mr. Boehr continued his Santa Fe association with appearances in the Santa Fe Opera Winter Concert Series and the company’s 2007 spring opera tour of the new work “Trinity.” In February Mr. Boehr made his debut with the Pittsburgh Opera singing Osmano in their production of L’Ormindo. Mr. Boehr has won numerous prizes at vocal competitions sponsored by the Dallas Opera Guild, Palm Beach Opera and the Metropolitan Opera Council Southwest Regional Auditions, among others. He joins the Minnesota Opera this fall as a resident artist, singing Cristiano in A Masked Ball, Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet, the Persian Captain in The Fortunes of King Croesus and the Hunter in Rusalka. Next season, he returns to sing roles in Pinocchio and The Barber of Seville.
Andrea Coleman (Trigesta)
Mezzo-soprano Andrea Coleman joined The Minnesota Opera as a Resident Artist last year in productions of The Tales of Hoffmann as Antonia’s Mother, Lakmé as Mallika and The Marriage of Figaro as Marcellina. For her second season, she appears as Zulma in The Italian Girl in Algiers, Trigesta in The Fortunes of King Croesus and a wood nymph in Rusalka. She recently finished her Master of Music degree at the New England Conservatory of Music, where she sang the roles of Dorabella in Così fan tutte, Jo in Little Women, Madame de la Haltière in Cendrillon, Mrs. Grose in The Turn of the Screw and the Third Lady in The Magic Flute. At her undergraduate alma mater, the University of Kansas, Ms. Coleman was featured as the Third Lady in The Magic Flute, Katisha in The Mikado and Edith in The Pirates of Penzance. Other credits include the Duchess in The Gondoliers with the Harvard-Radicliffe G & S Players and Mrs. Noye in Noye’s Fludde with the Lawrence Chamber Orchestra. She has spent the last two summers at Glimmerglass Opera as a Young American Artist, most recently featured as Karolka in Janacek’s Jenufa.
As a concert artist, Ms. Coleman has appeared in Honegger’s Le Roi David with the Back Bay Chorale, Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder with the New England Conservatory, Augusta Read Thomas’s Sun Songs, Ligeti’s Sippal, dobbal with the NEC Percussion Ensemble, Vivaldi’s Gloria, RV 589 with the Grace Chapel of Lexington, the Duruflé Requiem with the University of Kansas and the Mozart Requiem with the Kaw Valley Community Chorus.
Alan Dornak (Halimacus)
In the 2007-2008 season Alan Dornak appears as soloist in the Messiah with Boston Baroque and performs the role of Halimacus in The Fortunes of King Croesus with The Minnesota Opera. He is currently the principal alto soloist of the Bach Choir, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in New York, a professional performance ensemble which uses period instruments.
He joined the roster of the Metropolitan Opera in 2006-2007, and appeared as alto soloist with the Maryhouse Chorus and Chamber Orchestra, and the Queens Chamber Band, both in New York City. Other recent highlights include the title role in Giulio Cesare with the Hudson Opera Theatre, Handel's Messiah with the Greater Pensacola Symphony Orchestra, works by Bach including his Magnificat in D with the Bach Choir, the Messiah with the Maryhouse Chorus and Chamber Orchestra, Hartke's Tituli at the Church of the Transfiguration (NY) and Joad in Handel's Athalia with the Queens Chamber Band. In the summer of 2007, he taught at Festa Lirica in Italy.
Mr. Dornak first began to pursue his career as a countertenor after singing both the role of the Seaman (tenor) and that of the Spirit (countertenor) in a performance of Dido and Aeneas with the Brandenburg State Theater. With great encouragement from the countertenor Michael Chance, and after being awarded a grant by the Horst and Gretl Will Foundation, Mr. Dornak furthered his studies at the Hochschule für Musik in Dresden where he received two advanced degrees in vocal performance. Immediately after making the transition to countertenor, Mr. Dornak found himself in demand as a concert soloist throughout Germany in regional and international music festivals with renowned early music ensembles such as the Dresdner Kreuzchor, Berliner Lautten Compagney, Dresdner Kammerchor, Sächsiches Vocalensemble, Weimarer Barockensemble, Ensemble Alte Musik Dresden and the Telemannisches Collegium Michaelstein.
Alan Dornak has triumphed in performances of standard countertenor repertoire such as Oberon in A Midsummer Night's Dream (directed by Axel Koehler) in Munich and Regensburg and the title role of Giulio Cesare in Dresden and New York. He made his countertenor stage debut with the Berliner Kammeroper as Valerius in Kaiser's Der Tempel des Janus. His success continued with notable engagements with the Berliner Lautten Compagney including roles in two Pallavicino operas, singing Hermia/Aristo in a touring production of L'Antiope and Ubaldo in La Gerusalemme liberata at the Dresden Music Festival. Also at the Dresden Music Festival, he was praised for his "powerful voice" (Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten) for his performances of Odoardo/Lelio in Hasse's La sorella amante. He performed the role of Cleone in Graun's Orfeo with the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin (conducted by Ralf Popken) at the Music Festival Potsdam-Sanssouci and the roles of Eris and Sophimene in numerous touring performances of Meder's Die beständige Argenia. These performances inspired a German television documentary, Behind the Scenes with a Countertenor.
His extensive oratorio experience includes performances throughout Germany, Holland and the United States of Handel's Messiah and Joshua, Bach's St. John Passion and Christmas Oratorio, Pergolesi's Stabat mater and Orff's Carmina burana. As a respected recitalist throughout Europe and North and South America, Mr. Dornak has performed solo recitals throughout Germany, at Carnegie Hall (Weill Hall) with The Queen's Chamber Band and throughout Brazil on tour with the Ensemble Il Dolcimelo.
Among his various recordings, Mr. Dornak has gained critical acclaim and earned special recognition from Klassik Heute for his "beautiful voice" and "exemplary" performance in the 2004 recording of J.K. Kerll's Missa Nigra released by Oehmsclassic. Recordings of Mr. Dornak are broadcast on a regular basis throughout the world.
Dan Dressen (Elcius)
It was twenty-five years ago that tenor Dan Dressen first sang in a Minnesota Opera production. Since then he has performed many times with The Minnesota Opera, most recently the roles of Grampa in the world premiere of The Grapes of Wrath, the Doctor in Poul Ruder’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Gastone in La traviata, Abraham Kaplan in Street Scene, Don Basilio in The Marriage of Figaro, Valzacchi in Der Rosenkavalier and Sellem in The Rake’s Progress. Other opera engagements include performances with Washington Opera and its productions of Carmen and the world premiere of Dominick Argento’s The Dream of Valentino and with The Lyric Opera of Cleveland in La bohème. Mr. Dressen is an original member of Nautilus Music Theater with which he performed the role of the Man in Snow Leopard by William Harper and the role of the Baker in Sondheim’s Into The Woods.
He is a frequent soloist with VocalEssence, with which he sang the title roles in Britten’s St. Nicolas Cantata, Handel’s Samson, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, Dominick Argento’s Jonah and the Whale and Revelations of St. John, Mass in D by Dame Ethel Smythe, the role of Rajar in the world premiere of The Fourth Wiseman by Randall Davidson and Geral Finzi’s Intimations of Immortality in the first United States Finzi Festival. Recently he performed with VocalEssence in the world premiere of The Passion of Jesus of Nazareth by Francis Grier and this past spring sang with VocalEssence in William Bolcom’s Songs of Innocence and Experience.
Mr. Dressen has appeared at several Aldeburgh Festivals in England. Performances there include the tenor solos in Britten’s The Company of Heaven, which he also has recorded in London. In Minneapolis and St. Paul he has performed with The St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, Minnesota Chorale, Dale Warland Singers, Bach Society and appeared several times with Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion.
A Professor of Music and Associate Dean for the Fine Arts at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, Mr. Dressen teaches voice and lyric diction. He is editor of a seven-volume anthology series of opera arias by Benjamin Britten for Boosey & Hawkes publishing company and currently serves on the Commission for Accreditation for the National Association of Schools of Music.
Jamie-Rose Guarrine (Clerida)
A native of Peoria, Illinois, Jamie-Rose Guarrine has received acclaim for her vocal beauty, elegant stage presence, and accomplished musicianship. She returned to the San Francisco Opera's prestigious Merola Program in the summer of 2007, where she sang the role of Veronique in the world premiere of Hotel Casablanca by Thomas Pasatieri, "... Bringing a winning vulnerability to the role of the aspiring actress." (San Francisco Chronicle)
Christopher Job (Solon)
Bass Christopher Job is a Southern California native who has established himself as an important talent in the American opera scene. His interpretations of the operatic and concert repertoire have been praised by the critics and public alike. The press has described him as "youthful, agile, handsome, and with the voice to match;" with "commanding sonority" and "authoritative low notes." Winner of the North Dakota District of the Metropolitan Opera National Auditions in 2007, and Second Place Winner for the Rocky Mountain Region in 2006, he is also the Grand Prize Winner of the Denver Lyric Opera Guild Competition of 2005.
Recently, with Opera Colorado, Mr. Job was seen as Count Ribbing in Un ballo in maschera, the Sprecher/Second Priest in Die Zauberflöte, Dr. Dulcamara in L'elisir d'amore, Zuniga in Carmen, and Osmin in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, in new James Robinson productions. He created the role of General Godofredo de la Barca in the world premiere of La Curandera, an opera in one act by Robert Xavier Rodriguez, commissioned by Opera Colorado. He was also recently seen as Ramfis in Aïda and Il Commendatore in Don Giovanni with Opera Fort Collins.
Last summer, at Glimmerglass Opera of New York, Mr. Job was seen as Caronte in Monteverdi's Orfeo ed Euridice as well as the Poet in Philip Glass' Orphée. He will return to Glimmerglass as a guest artist in the summer of 2008 to sing Capellio in Bellini's I Capuleti e i Montecchi. Mr. Job has been a resident artist with The Minnesota Opera throughout its 2007-2008 Season, singing roles in Un ballo in maschera, Roméo et Juliette and Keiser's The Fortunes of King Croesus.
Mr. Job has to his credit numerous roles and appearances with such companies as The Minnesota Opera, Glimmerglass Opera, Opera Colorado, Opera Omaha, Opera Pacific, Des Moines Metro Opera, Aspen Opera Theatre, Opera Theatre of the Rockies and Chautauqua Opera of New York, as well as numerous other opera and concert appearances in countries such as Italy, Israel, Austria, the United Kingdom, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil.
He has performed on Broadway at Lincoln Center's Avery Fisher Hall with the New York Philharmonic, where he was featured in two roles in My Fair Lady, sharing the stage with Kelsey Grammer and Brian Dennehy. Other concert appearances include: bass soloist in Beethoven's Missa Solemnis with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic as well as bass soloist in Verdi's Requiem with the Denver Opera Company. He has also been soloist in Handel's Messiah with the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and the Colorado Springs Philharmonic. Some of the young bass' upcoming concert engagements include solo appearances in Haydn's Creationwith the Greeley Philharmonic as well as Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the Grand Junction Symphony Orchestra to commemorate its 30th Anniversary Season.
Other roles to his credit, both nationally and internationally, include the title role in Handel's Giulio Cesare, Figaro in Le nozze di Figaro, Sarastro in Die Zauberflöte, Méphistophélès in Gounod's Faust, The Bonze in Madama Butterfly, both Reverend Hale and Francis Nurse in The Crucible, Dr. Grenvil in La traviata, Simone in Gianni Schicchi, Talpa in Il tabarro, Grandpa Moss in Copland's The Tender Land, Alidoro inLa Cenerentola, Seneca in L'incoronazione di Poppea and the title role in Don Giovanni.
Brian Leerhuber (Orsanes)
Brian Leerhuber has been praised as an artist of outstanding promise in opera, recital and orchestral concerts. In the 2007-2008 season, Mr. Leerhuber will portray General Robert E. Lee in the world premiere performances of Appomattox by Philip Glass in a return to the San Francisco Opera. He will make his Los Angeles Opera debut as Schaunard in La bohème as well as return to The Minnesota Opera as Orsanes in Reinhard Keiser's The Fortunes of King Croesus. These performances will be conducted by Harry Bicket and directed by Tim Albery and mark the work's North American premiere. He will also be heard on the concert platform performing Carmina burana with the Reno Philharmonic and the California Symphony and will be a featured soloist in the Grapes of Wrath Suite by Ricky Ian Gordon with the Los Angeles Master Chorale.
Last season, Mr. Leerhuber created the role of Tom Joad in Ricky Ian Gordon's The Grapes of Wrath to great acclaim with The Minnesota Opera and Utah Opera. He made his debut with the San Francisco Opera as Dr. Falke in Die Fledermaus, conducted by Donald Runnicles. Recent highlights of Mr. Leerhuber's career include debuts with the Houston Grand Opera as Dr. Malatesta in Don Pasquale, conducted by Patrick Summers and directed by James Robinson, the Tulsa Opera as Harlekin in Ariadne auf Naxos at Tulsa Opera and title role in Il barbiere di Siviglia in a new production at Santa Fe Opera.
Paul Nilon (Croesus)
Paul Nilon is established as one of Europe’s outstanding lyric tenors in a wide repertoire ranging from Monteverdi to Britten.
His many major operatic roles include Septimius/Theodora, Piro/Ermione for Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Tamino, Lurcanio/Ariodante and Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni and the title role of Tito/La clemenza di Tito, all for English National Opera, Tom Rakewell/The Rake’s Progress, Nerone/L’incoronazione di Poppea (shown on BBC Television over Christmas 1998), Benedict/Beatrice and Benedict, Prologue/Peter Quint/The Turn of the Screw, Eisenstein/Die Fledermaus, Pylade/Iphigénie en Tauride and the title role in Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria, all for Welsh National Opera, Grimoaldo/Rodelinda, Alfredo/La traviata and Septimius/Theodora for Glyndebourne Touring Opera and Ferrando/Così fan tutte, Don Ottavio/Don Giovanni, Fenton/Falstaff, King Ouf/L’étoile and the title roles of Idomeneo, Orfeo and Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg for Opera North, Ulysses/Ulysses Comes Home for the Birmingham Opera Company, Don Ottavio at Garsington and Golo in Schumann’s Genoveva at the 2000 Edinburgh Festival. Recent overseas engagements have included the title role in Monteverdi’s Ulisse at the Maggio Musicale in Florence directed by Luca Ronconi conducted by Trevor Pinnock, Grimoaldo/Rodelinda at the Montreux Festival with Glyndebourne Festival Opera, conducted by William Christie, Così fan tutte and The Barber of Seville for the New Israeli Opera, Mischa (Julietta) in Prague and at the Ravenna Festival, Lurcanio/Ariodante (in Munich and on tour in Japan) and Grimoaldo/Rodelinda for the Bayerische Staatsoper and Grimoaldo in his debut with San Francisco and Dallas Operas.
He has an active concert career with highlights including Bach’s B Minor Mass with the LPO, Mozart Requiem and Schumann’s Das Paradies und die Peri (conducted by Mark Elder) and Handel Susanna, all with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Beethoven’s Missa solemnis with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Handel L’allegro with the Ensemble Orchestral de Paris, Handel’s Solomon in Florence and Israel under Ivor Bolton, Britten’s War Requiem and Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with the Hallé, the Messiah with The Sixteen and Harry Christophers and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 with the BBC Philharmonic and Gianandrea Noseda. Future concerts include Britten’s War Requiem with the Huddersfield Choral Society.
Future operatic engagements include Ariodante in Munich, the title roles in Il ritorno di Ulisse in patria for the Netherlands Opera, The Fortunes of King Croesus (by Keiser) for Opera North and The Minnesota Opera, Pylade in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride in Oviedo, Vivaldi’s L’incoronazione di Dario for Garsington Opera, Werther for Opera North and Idomeneo for Birmingham Opera Company.
Paul Nilon has appeared on a number of notable recordings for Opera Rara including Rossini’s Ricciardo e Zoriade and Donizetti’s L’assedio di Calais and Medea in Corinto. He will record the role of Pirro in Rossini's Ermione in 2009.
Susanna Phillips (Elmira)
Alabama native Susanna Phillips has attracted special recognition for a voice of striking beauty and sophistication. In the banner year of 2005, she was the winner of four of the world’s leading vocal competitions – Operalia (both First Place and the Audience Prize), the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, the MacAllister Awards and the George London Foundation. She completed the Ryan Opera Center at Lyric Opera of Chicago in 2007.
In the 2007–2008 season, Susanna Phillips will return to Santa Fe Opera as Countess Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro in a new production by Jonathan Kent. She will perform the notoriously difficult role of Elmira in a Tim Albery production of Reinhard Keiser's The Fortunes of King Croesus in her debut with The Minnesota Opera conducted by Harry Bicket. She will sing another role debut as Donna Anna in Don Giovanni in her first performances with Utah Opera. She will also sing Musetta in La bohème at Madison Opera and Blanche de la Force in Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites at Kentucky Opera. Both are role and company debuts. Concert engagements include Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra, Handel'sMessiah with the Pacific Symphony, and Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem at Carnegie Hall with the Oratorio Society of New York.
As a 2005–2006 member of LOCAA, Ms. Phillips sang Frasquita (Carmen), Pamina and Papagena (Die Zauberflöte) as well as Countess Ceprano (Rigoletto). She covered First Lady (Die Zauberflöte), Micaëla (Carmen) and Euridice (Orfeo ed Euridice).
Christian Reinert (Eliates)
Vale Rideout (Atis)
Hailed by Opera News as "exuberant and clear-voiced," whose "clean sound and clear diction prove impressive," tenor Vale Rideout delivers acclaimed performances throughout the United States and Europe in such roles as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte, the title role in Albert Herring, Eisenstein in Die Fledermaus and Roméo in Roméo et Juliette.
Vale Rideout's engagements in the 2007-2008 season include singing Ferrando in Così fan tutte with Boston Baroque; Frank in the world premiere of Elmer Gantry with Nashville Opera; Atis in Keiser's The Fortunes of King Croesus with The Minnesota Opera; Tamino in Die Zauberflöte with Tulsa Opera; the Male Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia and Sam in Susannah, both with Central City Opera; as soloist in Britten's War Requiem with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Lorin Maazel conducting, also with the Grand Rapids Symphony; and Messiah with the Pensacola Symphony.
Mr. Rideout's 2006-2007 season included his debut at the San Francisco Opera performing Alfred in Die Fledermaus. He also sang the roles of Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore with the Anchorage Opera and Roméo in Roméo et Juliette with the Tampa Performing Arts Center. He appeared as soloist in Carmina burana with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, Messiah with the Seattle Symphony, Mozart's Mass in C Minor with the Huntsville Symphony and in an evening of opera arias and ensembles with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. He collaborated again with Lorin Maazel as Male Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia, with performances at the conductor's estate in Virginia, and was asked immediately thereafter to join Mo. Maazel as soloist in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in Rome. In the summer of 2007, he sang Prince Charming in Cendrillon with Central City Opera.
Recent highlights include his Los Angeles Opera debut in Parsifal; the role of Peter Quint in a special production of The Turn of the Screw, produced by Lorin Maazel; George Gibbs in the professional premiere of Ned Rorem's Our Town with Lake George Opera; and Martin in Aaron Copland's The Tender Land at the Bard SummerScape Festival. He has been heard as Jacquino in Fidelio with the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra, Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail with the Ann Arbor Symphony, Rinuccio in Gianni Schicchi with the OK Mozart International Festival, Bogdanowitsch in The Merry Widow with Chautauqua Opera and the American premiere of Heinrich Sutermeister's Die Schwartze Spinne with the Gotham Chamber Opera. In addition, he appeared as Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia with the Merola Opera Program.
Mr. Rideout made his Carnegie Hall debut singing Bach's Magnificat and returned to sing Mozart's Requiem. He also sang Handel's Messiah with the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra in an immediate re-engagement after having just joined the symphony for his first performances of Haydn's Creation. Other concert highlights include the role of the Snowman in Ned Rorem's A Childhood Miracle with the American Masters and Magic Circle Repertory Opera Ensemble in celebration of the composer's 80th birthday, his American Symphony Orchestra debut in a program of short Hindemith operas, the world premiere of Mel Marvin's Guest from the Future at the Bard Music Festival, an appearance with the Connecticut Ballet in H.K. Gruber's Gloria: A Pig Tale, Haydn's Creation with the Huntsville Symphony Orchestra and his return to the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra as soloist in the Mozart Requiem. Mr. Rideout has been a featured soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, the Orchestra of St. Luke's, Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Academy of St. Martin in the Fields Chorus, Naples Philharmonic (FL), BBC Singers, and symphonies in California, Colorado and New York. Also in New York, he has also performed with the ENCORES! Series at City Center.
His extensive experience in musical theater includes Raoul in The Phantom of the Opera (Hamburg, Germany), Tony in West Side Story with Opera Grand Rapids, Tony in Terrence McNally's Master Class, Maltby and Shire's musical revue, Closer Than Ever, and the national tour of Cabaret directed by Sam Mendes and Rob Marshall.
Vale Rideout recently was awarded first prize in Savannah Music Festival's 2006 American Traditions Competition. He was a 2003 regional finalist in the Metropolitan National Council Auditions and a finalist in the Denver Lyric Opera competition. The Colorado native can be heard on the Newport Classics recording of The Ballad of Baby Doe, the world premiere recording of Kurt Weill's The Eternal Road and upcoming recordings with Third Angle Ensemble.
Tim Albery (Stage Director)
His theater work has included Wallenstein and Macbeth (RSC); Berenice (National Theatre); Attempts on Her Life (Royal Court Theatre); Mary Stuart (Greenwich Theatre); Nathan the Wise (Soulpepper, Toronto).
Harry Bicket (Conductor)
Tim Claydon (Choreographer)
Tim Claydon trained as a classical dancer. He has worked as an aerialist and choreographer for companies including The Generating Company, No Fit State and Scabeaus. For Opera North he worked as Assistant Director on The Bartered Bride, Orfeo ed Euridice, Duke Bluebeard's Castle and Peter Grimes, a production that he recently revived and as choreographer on La rondine, The Elixir of Love, Falstaff and The Fortunes of King Croesus.
Thomas C. Hase (Lighting Designer)
His work in the United States includes: Los Angeles Opera; New York City Opera; BAM, Seattle Opera; The Goodspeed Opera, The Skylight Opera Theater, The Portland Opera, New Orleans Opera, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; Center Stage Theatre, Alliance Theatre, The Dallas Theater Center, The Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Maine State Music Theater. Recently he designed John Doyle's Company on Broadway to national critical acclaim.
Internationally his work includes: The Canadian Opera Company, The Dutch National Opera; The Finish National Opera; Opera de Marseille; The Columbian National Opera; Staatstheater Kassel; Theater Erfurt; The Bavarian State Opera; The Irish National Theatre; The Vancouver Opera; Opera North; and over one hundred designs for theater, opera and ballet at the Stadttheater Giessen, Germany. Recently he premiered Phillip Glass’s new opera Waiting for the Barbarians at Theater Erfurt in Germany and Amsterdam as well as the blockbuster European revival of The Wiz for Stage Holdings in Holland. As Ping Chong’s lighting designer his work was seen worldwide. Concurrent with his many freelance projects, Mr. Hase is the resident lighting designer and director for the Cincinnati Opera.
Leslie Travers (Set and Costume Designer)
Theater: Twelfth Night (Chichester Festival Theatre); The Duchess of Malfi (West Yorkshire Playhouse); The Persian Revolution (Lyric Hammersmith); The Man and Two Gaffers (York Theatre Royal); Shirley Valentine (Derby Playhouse); Majnoun (Lyric Hammersmith, Riverside Studios and Tour); Death By Heroin(e) (Riverside Studios); Streets of Rage and Silent Cry (West Yorkshire Playhouse); Taj (UK Tour); Vurt (Contact Theatre - Winner of Arthur Peter Design Award and nominated for Manchester Evening News Design Award); Veriete (Lindsay Kemp Company, World Tour). Dance and ballet: Le corsaire (Asahi Award 2007), The Nutcracker (Asahi Award 2006) and Swan Lake (K-ballet, Japan Tour - Asahi Award 2005); Some? (Space 211, Paris); The Lark Ascending (English National Ballet). Opera: I Capuleti ed i Montecchi (Opera North / Opera Ireland - opens October 2008); The Fortunes of King Croesus (Opera North; The Minnesota Opera); Iolante and Gianni Schicchi (Royal Academy of Music); Le nozze di Figaro (Graz Opera - Ring Award 2005); Les contes d'Hoffmann (Stockholm); Hans Heiling (Strasbourg Opera - European Opera Prize). Leslie trained at the Wimbledon School of Art.
Set design for The Minnesota Opera’s upcoming production of The Fortunes of King Croesus
(designer: Leslie Travers)
Set design for The Minnesota Opera’s upcoming production of The Fortunes of King Croesus
(designer: Leslie Travers)
Set design for The Minnesota Opera’s upcoming production of The Fortunes of King Croesus
(designer: Leslie Travers)
Set design for The Minnesota Opera’s upcoming production of The Fortunes of King Croesus
(designer: Leslie Travers)
The operatic art form was barely a century old when the first version of Reinhard Keiser’s Der hochmüthige, gestürtzte und wieder erhabene Croesus (The Proud, Overthrown and Again Exalted Croesus) premiered in 1711, yet the genre already had diverged substantially from the noble intentions of its august founders. In the late 15th century, the Florentine Camerata assembled to imagine and possibly recreate music drama from the pinnacle of Greek theater in ancient times – the products of these endeavors were the intensely cerebral works of Jacapo Peri, and later, Claudio Monteverdi. Opera remained a court activity in Italy and France until it reached Venice. Free from a dynastic ruler, the mercantile port city was the perfect place for the first commercial opera house to open in 1637. Others sprang up soon after, and the art form would undergo a significant face-lift. The new theaters were equipped with state-of-the-art technology where producers could create fantastic spectacles (the merveilleux) to delight their working-class audiences. Confused and capricious libretti also pandered to their escapist tastes, now littered by an unwieldy Baroque love maze coupled with bawdy comedy placed beside agonizing tragedy. Pastoral scenes that had no relevance to the main plot were inserted midway through the drama, intended to contrast heroic characters with the common man. Venetian works grew to be known for their “fa stupir” (to become stupefied), intended to awe their cash customers, and quickly evolved into a popular mode of providing entertainment for everyone.
As Italian composers moved north, opera was soon to be a favorite amusement within the numerous German principalities as well, with a few notable exceptions. Hamburg, like its sister to the south, was a cosmopolitan free city with access to the North Sea and to trade with the Dutch, French and the British. Geographically situated both north/south and east/west, the city was able to play Denmark off Sweden politically, and when once elector George ascended the English throne, served as a diplomatic mission between England and Hanover. Spared the ravages of the Thirty Years War, Hamburg was at its economic zenith toward the end of the 17th century. To commemorate their prosperity, the town’s burghers (with the help of wealthy aristocrats) hired Italian architect Girolamo Sartorio to construct a venue similar to Venice’s Teatro Santissimi Giovanni e Paolo (with the requisite stage mechanics) on the site of the town’s old goose market, and the Theater am Gänsemarkt opened in 1678 with Adam und Eva by Johann Theile. The biblical drama hardly fooled the die-hard Hamburger clergy who would rail against the controversial and “corrupt” opera house for its entire existence (the Lutheran zealots even viewed deadly theater fires as Acts of God). Without a powerful noble to protect it, the genre was open to constant attack. Another recurrent threat was one of financial viability, and the Gänsemarkt continually would be plagued by shortfalls and changes in leadership. Reinhard Keiser was one of these composer-impresarios, perhaps the most talented artistically, though not so much fiscally.
From the cradle of public opera came a steady stream of libretti for Hamburg composers to spoil, and one of Keiser’s earliest triumphs was La forza della vertù, oder Die Macht der Tugend (The Force of Virtue; 1700) to text by Friedrich Christian Bressand after Domenico David’s original work, first produced in Venice in 1693. Though the names have been changed, the action concerns Pedro the Cruel, his imprisoned bride Blanche (who will, as it turns out, epitomize goodness and purity) and his mistress Maria Padiglia (the same subject that later would be set by Gaetano Donizetti in 1841, last seen on The Minnesota Opera’s stage in 2005). Besides depicting the trials of an imprisoned Blanche/Clotilde (intended for Pedro/Fernando, but locked up so that he can court his mistress Maria/Anagilda), the very serious drama indeed has its lighter moments. Bressand retains the traditional lustige Person, or “merry man,” in this case Padiglio, a comic figure drawn from the Italian commedia dell’arte, and of course there is plenty of love intrigue to supplement the plot. This format became the blueprint for nearly all of the German Baroque operas produced in Hamburg, with subjects ranging from the mythic (frequently allegorical, honoring the ruler), religious (to appease the clergy) and historical (celebrating Italy’s glorious past), all with some sort of didactic message tacked on the end.
Another Keiser opera, Masagniello furioso (1706), set to text by Barthold Feind, follows the same mold. An event from recent history (unusual for the time), a Neapolitan fisherman revolts against his Spanish overlords, is driven mad and then executed. [The same events later would be treated in the grand opéra by Eugène Scribe and Daniel Auber as La muette de Portici (1828).] In the space of all this hardship, the fruit vendor Bassian is introduced as the lustige Person, and the subplot includes the compulsory multiple amorous pursuits. With their use of low German and risqué comments, these libretti were intended to both amuse by ridiculing love, greed and inebriation as well as encourage certain virtues – devotion, fidelity, obedience, forgiveness – and discourage vices such as luxury, disloyalty and ambition for power. The Byzantine world of Baroque opera was a jumble of various styles drawn from French, Spanish and Italian sources. Scenery changes proliferate with little attention to continuity (liaison des scènes). Aristotelian unities of time and place are ignored in favor of real action as the plots take on the complexity of Shakespeare’s mixed dramatic genre, placing comedy beside tragedy and clowns with kings. It’s unclear if Feind was aware of the Bard’s plays – but his poison-and-dagger opera, Sueno, shows a striking resemblance to Romeo and Juliet with swift changes in emotions amid a blending of public and private scenes. In the words of Baroque-era librettist Heinrich Hinsch, “Opera provided a pleasurable poetic experience, precisely because it titillated the senses of its audience without attempting to address their reason or understanding.1”
Croesus, adapted from Niccolò Minato’s Creso, was first set to music by Antonio Draghi in 1678. Before becoming court poet to Austrian Emperor Leopold I, Minato had been a successful opera producer in Venice and set the template for Venetian libretti. Over a dozen composers would set Minato’s text, including later opera seria masters Johann Adolf Hasse and Niccolò Jommelli. The Mayor of Hamburg, Lucas von Bostel, first translated and adapted Creso for Johann Philipp Förtsch in 1684 and again for Keiser in 1711. The composer would substantially revise his opus toward the end of his life, and the opera perfectly exemplifies all of these Venetian conventions. The cast is huge (and four characters have been cut from Minato’s original), the romantic pentagon is unwieldy (with Elmira and Atis’ love story taking precedence over Croesus’ plight), the comedy is embodied in a mute principal who cannot sing, forced to communicate with gestures, and disguise, misdirection and treachery abound. Act II begins with a charming scene of “pastoral relief” involving a rustic peasant family (cut in this production) with whom the obligatory lustige Person Elcius interacts. Harlequin/Figaro-esque in the selling of his wares (and poking fun at customs such as the wearing of make-up and spectacles and the smoking of tobacco), the court jester Elcius neatly balances the commedia-derived female Trigesta (the traditional randy old nurse) and draws comparison to other charlatan salesmen in the annals of opera (Dr. Dulcamara in L’elisir d’amore and Coppélius in Les contes d’Hoffmann, to name two). In the end, the lovers are paired off amicably and all things conclude favorably.
Musically, Croesus and its sisters are equally diverse. Arias could range from the standard of the day, the Italian da capo and cavata, to strophic forms of the French ariette or German folksong. Ballet and dance rhythms, imported from France (Keiser’s mentor, Johann Sigismund Kusser, studied with Lully for eight years), were frequently employed (Croesus, in its original form, has five such numbers) even though they can be weak dramatically. Arias are short and plentiful, and in many Hamburg operas, are sometimes sung in both German and Italian. Orchestration is created with intention and depth, utilizing a variety of obbligato instruments to counter the vocal line. An homme à la mode in every aspect of his life, Keiser was at the forefront of change, moving from the heaviness of the Baroque to the expressive nuance and lighter ornamentation, the galanterie, of the Rococo.
Another aspect of Keiser’s composition is his attention to affect. His friend and colleague, Johann Mattheson, in line with Enlightenment thinkers of the day, developed the Affektenlehre, the belief that music was “the straightest path to the soul.” Keiser himself noted: “… the most noble science of music has never before been seen in such perfection in the civilized world as at this time … music presents the affects of Anger, Sympathy, Love and the characterization of Nobility, Justice, Innocence and Abandonment in their natural state, and awakens all spirits to them with its hidden power; indeed, it almost forces the heart secretly into a passion, according to its own will, just as an otherwise unburnable diamond must catch fire with an artfully cut mirror.2” By attentive manipulation of tempo, tonality, meter, harmony, melody, vocal melismas and rhythm, emotion can be elicited through music (though somewhat archaic today, this was avant-garde thinking in the early 18th century). Certain instruments had traits associated with them: trumpets could indicate nobility, boldness and anger; the horn could reveal feelings associated with hunting (bravery, confidence); the recorder with the pastoral world (sleep, love). Anticipating his Romantic-period successors, Keiser might characterize an entire work with single-minded instrumentation. Disturbing sentiments could be revealed by chromaticism (increased usage of sharps and flats) and doleful appoggiaturas (non-harmonic tones approached by a leap and resolved by a step), or with uneasy ninth chords and unexpected Neapolitan sixths. Mattheson, like Keiser, believed in modal distinctions, that each key had its own affect – the key of D major, which frames Croesus, he described as “sharp, headstrong, for warlike and merry things.” Binary forms might be used in preference to ternary options as a return to the first emotion may not be appropriate to the situation at hand; in contrast, the repeating ABA structure of the da capo aria may be employed for a scene of action and reflection. In Croesus, the music of Elmira, Atis and Croesus most exposes Keiser’s attention to Affekte – of particular note is the poignancy of Elmira’s Act II aria, “Ihr stummen Fische seid dem gleich” (“You silent fishes are like him”) where she longs for the silent and absent Atis, and Croesus’ “Solon, weiser Solon, ach!” (“Wise Solon, ah”) as he faces the gruesome Persian funeral pyre.
Meanwhile, back in Italy, the Arcadian “revolt” was brewing, led by librettists Domenico David and Apostolo Zeno, and brought to fruition by Zeno and Pietro Metastasio in Vienna (not surprisingly, Minato’s old stomping ground). In line with the French classicists, they provided a more orderly exposition of events by respecting the unities and maintained the gravity of the opera’s typically sober plot by excising anything farcical. The pastoral (opera’s very roots) became the comic intermezzo, to be played between two acts of a serious work and eventually to be developed into opera buffa, a genre in its own right.
The revolution sealed the fate of the old German school. A new rationalism argued against the artificiality of the Baroque, and the Gänsemarkt suffered through a decline in its artistic standards and sluggish support from its merchant class. The mature works of George Frideric Handel, who got his start with the German-Italian multilingual Almira in 1705, led the repertoire during the theater’s final two decades as Keiser slowly withdrew. The theater finally closed in 1738, after 60 years, 18 impresarios and 250 new works. Court opera, dominated by Italian opera seria, won the day, and the voice of a national German opera would be silenced for another 50 years. As one author aptly eulogized, “The Hamburg Opera is most significant for its demonstration, early in the history of an emergent German operatic style, that a prime concern was for the drawing together of all the theatrical means into a whole that transcended the sum of the parts.3”
Tales from Sardis
In a blending of myth and reality, the Greek historian Herodotus (484 B.C. – circa 425 B.C.) documented the sixth-century-B.C. struggle between Croesus and Cyrus, and his research provided much of the source for Minato’s libretto (alive during the golden age of Athens, Herodotus was later feted by Pericles, Sophocles, Euripides and others for his thorough reportage and wisdom). According to history, Croesus of Lydia indeed received disappointing news from Solon (another actual individual) that he was not considered the happiest man the Greek philosopher has ever known, even with all of his gold (Lydia’s capital of Sardis, by the way, is renowned for its invention of bimetallic coinage). After three frustrated queries, Solon reports:
Many men wealthy beyond measure are nevertheless unhappy, and many that have neither poverty nor riches have yet great happiness … he who ends his life well, then I judge him to be the happy man … but till he dies, so long do I hold my judgment, be not happy indeed, but fortunate. It is impossible that any man should comprehend in his life all things good … we must regard the end of all things, how they shall turn out; for the gods give to many men some earnest of contentedness, but yet in the end overthrow them utterly.
But surely money must buy happiness, and a dissatisfied Croesus endeavors to get the final word from Apollo himself, consulting the oracle at Delphi more than once (in some versions of the tale, the fable-spewing Aesop, Croesus’ contemporary, serves as the go-between). In addition to several supporting predictions, he receives a typically cryptic declaration: “If Croesus makes war against the Persians, he shall bring to the ground a great empire.” Naturally, the king takes this to mean a favorable outcome if he tries to expand his empire. Croesus also has a grudge to settle, for Cyrus of Persia has already conquered Media, the realm of his sister’s husband Astyages (whose wife and daughter have since taken refuge in neighboring Lydia). After a bloody battle with the Persian king, Croesus finds himself defeated and about to be burned alive. He cries for Solon and for the god Apollo’s mercy, which brings an extinguishing flood (a typically spectacular stage effect that must have delighted 17th- and 18th-century opera audiences). In earlier tellings, the suddenly-clement Cyrus pardons Croesus, yet a more modern interpretation of history reveals that the Lydian king does, in fact, die by Cyrus’ hand. Enhanced by earlier subplots in Herodotus’ narrative, the misfortunes of King Croesus truly espouse the overall themes of hubris, vanitas and the everchanging “winds of fate” so common to the world of Greek tragedy.
1 Gloria Flaherty, Opera in the development of German critical thought. Princeton: Princeton University Press, © 1978.
2 translation by John D. Arnn from Text, Music and Drama in Three Operas by Reinhard Keiser (dissertation, Rutgers, 1987).
3 John Warrack, German Opera from the beginnings to Wagner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
b Teuchern, January 10 or 11, 1674; d Hamburg, September 12, 1739
Procris und Cephalus 1694
Die wiedergefundenen Verliebten 1695
Mahumeth II 1696
Der güldene Apfel 1698
Hercules und Hebe 1699
Die Wiederkehr der güldnen Zeit 1699
La forza della virtù 1700
Störtebecker und Jödge Michaels 1701
La fedeltà coronata 1706
Der Carneval von Venedig 1707
Heliates und Olympia 1709
Desiderius, König der Longobarden 1709 Arsinoe 1710
Die Leipziger Messe 1710
Die Hamburger Schlacht-Zeit 1725
Lucius Verus 1728
|Virtually forgotten today, Reinhard Keiser was a leading composer of German Baroque opera. Just eleven years older than his more famous contemporary, George Frideric Handel, Keiser was an illegitimate child born to Gottfried Keiser, an organist and composer, and Dorothea von Etzdorff. The elder Keiser would eventually abandon his two young sons and wife. In spite of their relative poverty, Reinhard would Keiser’s Operas receive seven years of formal training at the Leipzig Thomasschule, where he demonstrated a natural ability to absorb and assimilate Italian opera popular in his day.
Keiser obtained the position of Cammer-Componist at the court opera in Brunswick, where several of his early works were first presented. An invitation to compose for the Theater am Gänsemarkt eventually led him to settle in Hamburg, and he would assume the theater’s directorship in 1703. It was also about this time Handel joined the opera orchestra, and the two came to blows over Handel’s early successes as a composer. Legend has it that the prickly Handel had a more violent altercation with singercomposer Johann Mattheson (an important Keiser biographer). During a performance of Mattheson’s Cleopatra, Handel refused to yield the harpsichord to him, leading to the challenge of a duel. His life was spared when Mattheson’s bullet ricocheted off a button, and the two eventually became fast friends, though Handel left Hamburg soon after in 1706. Several of his first operas were produced in that city, and recent scholarship has uncovered his liberal borrowings from Keiser’s vast oeuvre (one wonders how much of Keiser’s original music we are actually hearing today).
Though prodigious as a composer, Keiser was unlucky as an impresario, leading to several financial difficulties at the Gänsemarkt and his dismissal as music director. He tried to find a position as kapellmeister in Gotha, Eisenach, Stuttgart and Copenhagen, where he composed and revised several more operas. In 1722, he returned to Hamburg, where Georg Philipp Telemann had assumed his old position. Keiser was granted further opportunities for performance, but his output began to slow. In 1728, he succeeded Mattheson as Kantor of the Hamburg Cathedral and devoted himself largely to sacred music. Following the death of his wife in 1735, Keiser retired permanently. He died just one year after the Gänsemarkt closed for good in 1738.
Though Keiser wrote over 60 operas, only a small portion survive in manuscript. His style is unique, though heavily influenced by the prevailing Italian style, which (unlike Handel) he studied from a distance. He also employed French forms and the tradition of German lied. The revisions he made to Croesus indicate a sensitivity that looks forward to the emerging style galant, and a closer examination of his scores demonstrate a particular attention to orchestral and stylistic coloring for dramatic purposes. His popularity in the 18th century was subject to praise from the next generation, namely Telemann, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Johann Adolf Hasse (a composer known for his many opere serie settings of texts by Pietro Metastasio). Mattheson hailed Keiser as “le premier homme du monde.”
Dusting off a Masterpiece...
"The Fortunes of King Croesus" by Reinhard Keiser, coming to Opera North, Leeds and Minnesota Opera soon.
Masterpiece? The term rather depends on whether the artist in question was indeed a master and it might come as a surprise to learn that this little-known composer of the brief, but significant, German Baroque Opera period is regarded by many as just that.
Set model for The Fortunes of King Croesus
Keiser Music credits:
Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm
Röschmann, Güra, Trekel, Häger; RIAS-Kammerchor
and the Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin
H A R M O N I A M U N D I H M C 9 0 1 7 1 4 . 1 6
Klietmann, Mizugushi, Grigorova, van der Sluis,
Martin, Tucker, Akerlund, Benet, Targler, Clemencic;
Orchestre Baroque du Clemencic Consort and Ensemble
Vocal La Cappella
n u o va e r a 6 9 3 4 / 3 5
German Opera: From the Beginnings to Wagner
Cambridge University Press
John Griffiths Pedley
Sardis in the Age of Croesus: The Cities of Asia Minor
University of Oklahoma Press
George M. A. Hanfmann
From Croesus to Constantine
The University of Michigan Press
The Persian Wars
Modern Library College Editions