Early Music Vancouver serves up Handel, with a side of Vivaldi

Early Music Vancouver has just the thing for fans of 18th century repertoire.

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Early Music Vancouver presents Apollo e Dafne

When: Sept. 15, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Christ Church Cathedral, 690 Burrard St.
Tickets and info: Earlymusic.bc.ca

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Early Music Vancouver has just the thing for fans of 18th century repertoire: a program of Handel, with a side glance at Vivaldi.

The latter is provided by one of the scores of concertos by Venice’s Red Priest, in this case a piece for bassoon, which will feature Nathan Helgeson. The core of the program is by Handel, starting with the overture for his 1710 opera Agrippina, followed by Apollo e Dafne, a cantata for two singers with instrumental backup.

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Given our colonial heritage, we tend to focus on Handel’s decades in Britain. But as a brilliant 20-something, Handel lived and worked in Italy, very consciously setting out to learn all the tricks of the Italian baroque. He was bent on self-promotion: His first big oratorio, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (mounted by EMV in 2014) set a libretto by a powerful Roman cardinal. Apollo e Dafne was a subsequent collaboration.

No one could ever fault Handel’s energy: He created more than 80 cantatas during his brief time in Italy. As Howard Posner, program note writer for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, explains: “Unstaged and relatively small in scale, cantatas were a private, lower-budget substitute for opera, especially in Rome, where opera was often banned because the Papacy disapproved of its flock going to theatres to see lavishly staged stories about Roman gods doing immoral things. Handel instead thrived by writing cantatas that often involved those same pagan deities, for performance in the palaces of wealthy patrons, including several cardinals.” Indeed.

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Handel’s cantatas employ the operatic conventions of recitatives and arias, and in the case of Apollo e Dafne, case some sung dialogue.

Dafne, the chaste nymph who’s the object of the god Apollo’s affections, will be sung by soprano Jacqueline Woodley. Trained at McGill and an alumna of the Canadian Opera Company Studio Ensemble, Woodley has a particular penchant for both baroque and contemporary works.

Baritone Tyler Duncan probably needs no introduction to local audiences: His initial training took place here, and he has returned regularly for a number of diverse projects over the years, including a memorable 2015 EMV presentation of Brahms’s too infrequently heard Die Schöne Magelone, with his partner Erika Switzer.

Beyond a very busy performing career, Duncan has just been named Professor of Voice for Historical Performance at Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Institute of Music.

It’s not just a matter of nostalgia for the West Coast scenery that keeps Duncan and Switzer connected, at a distance, to our music scene. They have been staunch partisans of the notion that our artists should present our music for our audiences.

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Their latest project, released earlier this year, is The Left Coast, a CD featuring songs by seven B.C. composers. Much of the repertoire was commissioned or premiered by the duo, including songs by Stephen Chatman, Leslie Uyeda, Jeffrey Ryan and Iman Habibi. One of the highlights of the CD is the late Jocelyn Morlock’s Involuntary Love Songs, settings of texts by Alan Ashton.

Love songs from an earlier era by Jean Coulthard show the extent of the Duncan/Switzer commitment to our song heritage. Dating from the late 1940s, the Coulthard settings of texts by one-time UBC poet and classicist Louis MacKay mark a particularly important moment in Coulthard’s development. Switzer has created a modern edition of this neglected but important work, and the new recording sets a high contemporary standard for music from the recent past.

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