Each Boston Early Music Festival features a fully-staged production of a Baroque opera, usually one that has rarely, if ever, been performed in modern times. The centerpiece of this year's BEMF, opening tonight at the Cutler Majestic Theater, is the North American premiere of Psych_, Jean-Baptiste Lully's 1678 trag_die lyrique with libretto by Thomas Corneille.
Gilbert Blin's production of Psych_ is unusually lavish (especially by the standards of the often-financially strapped early music community in the U.S.): a cast of 21 solo singers, a children's chorus, a full Baroque orchestra with strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, a company of eight dancers, sets and costumes based on historical models, and recreations of the fabulous stage machinery that thrilled Baroque audiences.
Heading the cast are soprano Carolyn Sampson (selected last summer by Gramophone magazine as one of 20 "Classical Superstars of the Future") as the beautiful mortal Psyche, soprano Karina Gauvin as the jealous goddess Venus, and tenor Aaron Sheehan as her son Cupid, sent by his mother to destroy Psyche but captivated by her beauty instead.
Psych_ receives five performances in Boston from tonight through Sunday (June 17), and then travels to the Berkshires in western Massachusetts for three performances at the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington June 22-24.
While the opera staging is the flagship presentation of each Boston Early Music festival, it's by no means the sole event: this week's calendar is full of concerts (from early evening to late night), master classes, lectures and symposia — not to mention the continent's largest early music trade show, hosting instruments makers, music schools, recording labels and book and music publishers.
Among the highlights of this year's BEMF concert calendar are: the singers of Ensemble Cl_ment Janequin in two programs, one titled "Les Plaisirs du Palais: a palindromic banquet of Franco-Flemish music" (June 13) and the other featuring such onomatopoetic works by the group's namesake composer as Le Chant des Oylseaulx (June 15); viola da gamba virtuoso Philippe Pierlot and harpsichordist Jan Willem Jansen playing music of Marin Marais and C.P.E. Bach (June 13); Great Britain's Orlando Consort in a program exploring the theme of gardens in medieval music (June 14); Sampson and lutenist Elizabeth Kenny performing songs of early Baroque England (June 14); a five-hour daytime organ mini-festival (June 15); violinist Petra M‹llejans and fortepianist Kristian Bezuidenhout playing sonatas by Mozart (June 15); Benjamin Bagby and Sequentia in a revival of their staged performance of excerpts from the ancient Icelandic Eddas (June 15); the period wind ensemble Nachtmusique in music from Classical-era Vienna (June 16); Le Pome Harmonique, an extraordinary French ensemble not yet well-known in the U.S., performing traditional French romances and laments (June 16); and the instrumental group Tragicomedia, led by BEMF co-artistic director Stephen Stubbs, with guest singers and players in a program of musical hedonism by Henry Purcell and his contemporaries (June 16).
Tickets and complete information on the 2007 Boston Early Music Festival, including complete event schedules and venue locations, are available at www.bemf.org.