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Podcast: Luigi Rossi's baroque oratorio Giuseppe gets Hamilton and Toronto premieres this weekend

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A copy of the handwritten score of Luigi Rossi's Giuseppe.
A copy of the handwritten score of Luigi Rossi’s Giuseppe, as found in the Vatican Library.

Saturday and Sunday, new Early Music group Capella Intima, founded by tenor Bud Roach, presents its most ambitious programme to date: what is probably the first local performance of the oratorio Giuseppe by Neapolitan baroque composer Luigi Rossi. It’s a great excuse to present Musical Toronto’s first podcast, below.

The concerts — at Hamilton’s McNeil Baptist Church on Saturday at 2 p.m., at Toronto’s Bloor St United Church later that day at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at Kingston Rd United Church in Toronto — feature five singers and five instrumentalists, all people who should do a great job with this beautiful music.

The singers are sopranos Emily Klassen and Lesley Bouza, mezzo Laura McAlpine, bass James Baldwin (as Joseph) as well as Roach in what he says is a minor role.

“I had more than enough to worry about in getting something like this organised,” he smiled as we sat down for a chat ahead of a rehearsal earlier this week.

On the podcast, you can hear about how Roach connected with the work as well as samples of the music. Beyond the podcast, Roach also told me a lot more about getting Giuseppe ready for performance, and his own dreams for Capella Intima.

Rossi’s birth details aren’t clear, but we know it was in or near Naples in 1597 or 1598. He spent his early life in Naples and the bulk of his life as a composer in Rome working first for Marc’Antonio Borghese, then for Cardinal Antonio Barberini. Rossi also found favour in the French court. His best-remembered opera, Orfeo, was a six-hour extraganza that caused a stir at its Parisian premiere 365 years ago.

The new Pope Francis can claim allegiance to a long line of opera-loving popes going back to the 17th century. But it wasn’t proper to present opera during Lent, the penitential 40 days leading up to Easter. Instead, composers provided their audiences with oratorios, which drew dramatic passages from the Bible that are every bit as colourful as the average opera plot.

The music is also no less exciting, except that there is no staging.

Roach’s work on Giuseppe started well before rehearsals, as he transcribed the fair copy left behind in the Vatican Library (a sample pictured above) into clean, modern, computer-generated notation for voices and orchestra. A retired Hamilton linguist helped Roach decipher the Italian text as well as the English translations that will be projected on a big screen for this weekend’s performances.

Roach leads a busy and fascinating double life in new music as well as Early Music. Capella Intima is his outlet for the latter — and looks like something worth checking out.

For concert details, as well as more information on Capella Intima, click here.

Please let me know what you think of this podcast format — whether it’s a worthwhile addition to what is presented on Musical Toronto or not, and what sorts of things you would like to listen to if it were to become a regular feature. You can leave a comment here, or email me at suchacritic-at-gmail

Thank you very much for reading — and listening.

John Terauds

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