Friday, June 21, 2024

Hudson, NY: Baroque Opera Destination

Yesterday, Hudson Hall and R. B. Schlather announced the second opera in the "Handel on the Hudson" series: Giulio Cesare. There will be six performances of Handel's most popular opera in April 2025. 

The press release announcing the news follows:
Visionary opera director and Hudson resident R. B. Schlather reunites with early music band Ruckus in April 2025 for six performances of Handel's baroque blockbuster Giulio Cesare at Hudson Hall in Hudson, NY. Repeating the successful alchemy of Rodelina (2023), Schlather brings together area residents, rising young stars, and some of today's finest baroque interpreters to share his passion for Handel in the intimacy of New York State's oldest surviving theater. As R. B. is known to say: "I think Handel is the greatest opera composer, full stop."
Led by sought-after American countertenor Randall Scotting as Cesare and rising young star Song Hee Lee as Cleopatra, the production also features 2024 Met Opera Finalist Meridian Prall as Cornelia, Bard Music Conservatory alumni Chuanyuan Liu as Tolomeo and Rolfe Dauz as Curio, and area residents Matthew Deming as Nireno, Raha Mirzadegan as Sesto, and Douglas Williams as Achilla. 
(Left to right) Top: Randall Scotting (Cesare); Song Hee Lee (Cleopatra); Chuanyuan Liu (Tolomeo); Raha Mirzadegan (Sesto). Bottom: Meridian Prall (Cornelia); Douglas Williams (Archilla); Matthew Deming (Nireno); Rolfe Dauz (Curio)
The young, conductorless period instrument ensemble Ruckus features a dozen of some of the top baroque instrumentalists working today. In his New York Times review of last year's Rodelinda at Hudson Hall, Joshua Barone called Ruckus "stars" and continued: "With a mercurial, almost improvisatory spirit that responded to the drama in real time, they played with the fieriness and emotional charge of verismo." Ruckus's core is a continuo group, the baroque equivalent of a jazz rhythm section: guitars, keyboards, cello, bassoon, and bass, joined by violin, flute, and oboe.
The creative team includes Joseph Cermatori as dramaturg, costume design by Terese Wadden, lighting by Masha Tsimring, scenic associate Erica Zhang, hair and makeup by Matia Emsellem, supertitles by Steven Jude Tietien, and assistant director Michael Hofmann.
This second installment in Schlather's "Handel on the Hudson" series is eagerly anticipated. After The New York Times' chief music critic Zachary Woolfe called the initial announcement "the best news in a while for the New York opera scene," The New York Times' classical music critic Joshua Barone praised Schlather's Rodelinda as "worthy of a multi-year commitment to Handel." Critic Seth Rogovoy commended the creative team of Rodelinda for investing their interpretation with "the kind of punk aesthetic and dynamic that made the nearly three-hour performance feel urgent, contemporary, and incredibly fun," and The Berkshire Eagle's Evan Berkowitz wrote: "Rodelinda gave us the sort of opera we don't often get in our region: not just fully staged, but fully realized."
Place and talent are crucial ingredients in realizing Schlather's vision. As Barone noted in his review, Hudson Hall is "surprisingly ideal for the intimacy of Handel," setting it apart from the large New York City opera houses. Schlather, who lives just a few streets away from Hudson Hall, sources many of his collaborators from the local area and surrounding region, tapping a rich network of talent and partnerships right in his own backyard. Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in nearby Tivoli, NY, joins as a cultural partner and is where the cast will be in residence for the month of March. This sense of community extends to Schlather's audiences--many of whom are introduced to opera through his work. In addition to the six performances, Schlather plans additional open rehearsal hours to allow even more audiences an entree into the power of opera.
"R. B. Schlather's love of Handel and ability to connect with a new generation of musicians, creatives, and audiences creates an experience that is undeniably fresh and vital," says Hudson Hall Executive Director Tambra Dillon. "It's the future of opera--and it's spectacular. We expect nothing less for Giulio Cesare in 2025."    
The performances of Giulio Cesare will take place on April 19, 23 (matinee), 26, 27 (matinee), 30 (matinee), and May 2, 2025, at Hudson Hall at the historic Hudson Opera House, 327 Warren Street. Tickets went on sale yesterday for members of Hudson Hall; tickets will be available to the public beginning in January 2025.

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