Had Venetian composer Francesco Cavalli been told that his 1640 opera Gli Amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (The Many Loves of Apollo and Dafne) would someday be performed in the New World, he would have been impressed. After all, the Pilgrims had arrived at Plymouth only two decades earlier.
It has taken some time, but Cavalli finally gets his North American premiere this weekend at Bowling Green State University.
The production was reconstructed from a facsimile of the score by BGSU professor and early music scholar Vincent Corrigan. That was no small feat. The facsimile provided the melodies, but little else. Corrigan had to assign instruments, meters, and key signatures, correct obvious errors in transcription, fill in the harmonies, and construct vocal and instrumental scores. Even the order of the scenes was up in the air.
What emerges is a dicey tale of romances human and godly.
Giovanni Busenello's libretto juxtaposed contrasting love stories from Ovid's Metamorphoses: the tale of Apollo and Dafne and that of Cefalo and Procri.
Apollo loves Dafne, but it's a false love inspired after being pierced by an arrow from the mischievous Amor. Dafne loves nature and is repulsed by Apollo. (Amor has shot her too, but with a leaden "anti-love" arrow.)
As the love chase begins, Dafne flees and begs the gods that she be spared Apollo's passion. Just in time, her wish is granted, sort of. She is turned into a laurel tree. Disappointed but undaunted by the turn of events, Apollo breaks off a branch, claims the laurel as his own, then goes back to idolizing his true "true love," himself.
In contrast, Cefalo and Procri do love each other, but theirs is a love destroyed by failings all too human. Procri spys on Cefalo as he and the goddess Aurora lounge in a wooded clearing. Procri's lament to lost love closes the first act.
Busenello's idea was to use the various stories to comment on the role of women in Venetian society. The original production updated the story to contemporary Venice. The BGSU production modernizes the story, setting a daffy Daphne in a World War I hospital.
Juxtaposing contrasting plots was a common operatic practice, said Corrigan.
"The stories in this opera are related in that they deal with love in its various aspects. It is confusing to describe, but not when you see it on stage. The characters never interact."
Part of the idea was to offer something for everyone, said Corrigan. "More stories meant more characters on stage, which meant bigger audiences because people always wanted to see their favorite singers. What you get here is a myth potpourri."
The production borrows expertise from across campus, including: the College of Musical Arts, Department of Theatre and Film, Department of Romance Languages, the School of Art, and the School of Human Movement, Sport and Leisure Studies.
Instrumental forces will be led by BGSU professor Emily Freeman Brown and Paul O'Dette, who directs the early music program at the Eastman School of Music.
The BGSU Opera Theater presents Francesco Cavalli's "Gli Amori d'Apollo e di Dafne (The Many Loves of Apollo and Dafne)" at 8 p.m. Friday and 3 p.m. Sunday in BGSU's Kobacker Hall of the Moore Musical Arts Center. Tickets are $10, $8 for students. Information: 419-372-8171 or 419-372-2719.
Two follow-up events are also scheduled for Monday. At 9 a.m. in Room 207 of the Bowen-Thompson Student Union, scholars will discuss issues in staging Baroque opera. At 12:30
p.m. Princeton University professor Wendy Heller presents "Transforming Ovid: Love, Desire and Metamorphosis in Cavalli's Gli Amori d'Apollo e di Dafne" in Room 308 of the Union. Both events are free, but reservations are required. Information: 419-372-2017.
Contact Steven Cornelius at: firstname.lastname@example.org