Famed early music maestro Stephen Stubbs (left, photo with Baroque harp and chitarrone by Bill Mohn) discussed the origins of opera, Monteverdi and the music of our new chamber opera pasticcio, The Combat, with me (Seattle Opera Dramaturg Jonathan Dean). Performances of The Combat run April 1-9 at Seattle Opera Studios in South Lake Union—the old warehouse we’re leaving once Seattle Opera At The Center is ready next year.
Maestro Stubbs made his mainstage Seattle Opera debut in the earliest opera we’ve presented to date, Handel’s Giulio Cesare (1724), in which he played chitarrone. That was in 2007, when he had just moved back to his native city after three decades working in all the early music capitols of Europe. Now he’s a credit to Seattle as Artistic Director of Pacific MusicWorks and Senior Artist in Residence at the University of Washington. Here’s an edited transcript of our conversation on March 21, 2017, part of our monthly series at Seattle University:
Opera had been around for centuries, before most of the familiar “standard rep” operas were composed. In America, many of the fascinating pieces from the early chapters of opera history are still unfamiliar, although my sense is they’re more mainstream today in Europe.
It’s hard for me to judge, because the world of ‘early music’ is the world I’ve lived in for the last forty years. Seems mainstream to me!
Theater size can be a limiting factor. Most of our big American opera houses were built to showcase those grand nineteenth-century Romantic scores. That’s why we’re excited to present the music of The Combat in a chamber-opera format. Our performances will take place in a big chamber, not an opera house, and it’s really more authentic, because they didn’t have opera houses when this music was written!
That’s right, the centerpiece of The Combat, this “Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda” of Monteverdi, was written in 1624, in Venice, where they’d build Italy’s first opera houses starting about ten years later. Monteverdi was maestro di cappella at San Marco in Venice, and the patron for whom he wrote this piece was a senator there, who later also sponsored his first opera in Venice. The composer was in his 70s, but this creation of a new art form was too exciting an opportunity to pass up, and he got in on the action.